It’s cold in Wisconsin, especially in the part that’s close to Lake Michigan. Anyone who has felt the wind whip off the lake in winter knows why the Chicago nickname for it is, “The Hawk”; it’ll cut through you and leave you gasping. It may freeze some brain cells, too.

That’s the only reason I can see for the response of Wisconsin congressman Jim Sensenbrenner to a complaint at his town hall meeting about his vote to allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sell your browsing history. What the bill actually does is roll back rules by the Federal Communications Commission that would require you to “opt in” to having your web and app usage history “available” (i.e., sold) to advertisers.

Knowing exactly how many of us would consent to that, lobbyists from the ISPs (who are paid to be relentless) have pushed against it since it was proposed, and have used the change in administration to push back in Congress. So now, Comcast, AT&T and all the others can sell an incredible amount of information about you to the highest bidder; and you can bet they will, right after they mine it for themselves.

The questioner had pointed out the difference between Google, something they could choose to use or not, and their ISP, which was their only high-speed choice in that district. Rep. Sensenbrenner’s response was, “Nobody’s got to use the Internet.” His press office followed up on this statement, saying that this was not a misquote (it would be hard for it to have been, since there is video of the exchange) or a misunderstanding, but his actual position: “They have a choice.”

Well, I guess they do. The Amish have a choice, too, and have made it, and they survive just fine, thank you, with horses and oil lamps. But what about the rest of us? Do we have a choice, if we want our businesses or households to survive or thrive?
Did you get an email recently from Social Security telling you to check on last year’s data to make sure it was accurate? Exactly how were you to do that? Online, of course. Hey, did you get any emails at all?

How would your business run without email? Are you willing to go back to writing letters? Not hardly.

How about online access to websites that you use every day? Insurance agents check your driving record as they speak to you about switching plans. Your investment adviser asks you to check out a new retirement option for your employees. You want to check out a news article on something affecting your business or news that your competitor is going belly-up. Do you want to wait for tomorrow’s paper or your monthly trade magazine and hope they cover it?

How many bills do you get each month that ask you to switch to online billing? Just about every one. The pitch is to be green, or to be secure (ha) for convenience, but we all know they want to change from printing and mailing costs to free Internet.
Oh, and do you pay online? Or check that your paycheck has been direct-deposited?

I could go on and on (and I plan to), but the drift is clear. The idea that “Nobody’s got to use the Internet” is as out-of-touch as an Amish horse-drawn plow in a world of GPS-guided tractors.
Did you e-file your taxes? Get an email from your child’s teacher on scheduling a conference concerning his habit of shredding his homework assignments? Have you applied for a new job lately? Or ordered birthday presents on Amazon? And don’t even think about how e-commerce has changed retail and driven some retailers to close, period.

OK, I’ll stop now. Maybe this yo-yo from Wisconsin should try running his next reelection campaign without the Internet and see how he does. That would only be fair.


More Branding

So, Verizon has been busy buying old companies (good to know that my monthly payments are going somewhere), such as AOL and most of Yahoo. One of the first results of this has been the switch of its email platform from a reasonably coherent one to AOL. You can still use your address, but you email reader is the AOL one. Not an improvement.

Anyway, the merger of AOL and Yahoo will produce a new company called Oath. The resultant jokes have not been kind: “Overpriced And Typically Horrible” and the company hashtag of #TakeTheOath has led to comparisons of secret handshakes and cult meetings at midnight.

Has it forgotten one of the dictionary definitions? “An irreverent or careless use of a sacred name; broadly: swear word — “He uttered an oath and stormed away.”
That seems right to me.

Very Pretty
It’ll be too late for this year by the time you read this, but put down as a must-see for next spring a visit to Sherwood Gardens, in the Guilford section of Baltimore City. You’ll see 18,000 tulips in a most wonderful pocket park. They usually peak around Easter.

Take a picnic with you and be amazed. It’ll make you forget all about oaths.

Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, network setups and data retrieval — when not trying to come up with sarcastic acronyms for silly corporate names. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at [email protected]. Older columns are online at