Net neutrality under threat

The telecommunication companies are pushing hard against net neutrality so that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can charge different rates to companies for use of their networks. This would result in large companies that are willing to pay being able to provide faster response times than smaller, poorer companies, eventually squeezing the latter out of business. President Obama appointed the head of the lobbying body of the cable companies to head the FCC, which strongly hinted that the fix was in.

The Federal Communications commission has called for public comments on its regulatory proposals and apparently they have been deluged with comments, with 99% wanting a high degree of regulation enforcing neutrality.

As Brian Fung writes:

Despite the incomplete analysis, the research is the most credible one we’ve seen to date and shows an overwhelming bias toward stronger regulation. About two-thirds of the studied comments called for reclassifying broadband providers under Title II of the Communications Act — a move that would allow the FCC to regulate ISPs more heavily but would likely provoke a strong political backlash.

The backlash that Fung refers to is not a widespread public one but from the cable companies and their powerful allies, including members of Congress and the White House.

John Oliver provided an excellent analysis of net neutrality and what is at stake and was one of those who called upon his viewers to write in.

So now the FCC has the problem of how to kowtow to the cable companies and subvert net neutrality while not enraging the public. This could be an explosive issue because people care about the internet even if they are not fully aware of the danger to it that currently exists. If neutrality goes away and they later realize what they have lost, this could provoke a real public backlash.

I hope the FCC is scared enough to back away from undermining net neutrality.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    See this:
    FCC’s Wheeler: US needs more high-speed broadband competition

    In Wheeler’s new broadband competition agenda, the FCC will:
    — Encourage competition, including opening up new spectrum to mobile broadband and by pushing for net neutrality rules that ensure “the Internet remains free from barriers erected by last-mile providers,” Wheeler said.

    This appears to me to be a reversal, but I haven’t been following the issue very closely.

  2. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I submitted a comment of what I think it should be (which is that it should be classified as a common carrier). I’m a little confused though. Allow me to start with analogy.

    The Post Office offers different tiers of service. They offer one-night, two-night, and regular shipping (among other options). Different amounts of money are required for these different tiers of service, and this is for a common courier. I don’t see people getting up in arms about this.

    Now, what would get people up in arms is if the Post Office decided that Google could afford to pay more, and they charged Google twice the rate of their competitors. That I think should be disallowed for the obvious reasons.

    Now, think about residential internet users. Many internet service providers offer varying tiers of service. Dial-up, DSL, cable, and different tiers within those sections – different bandwidth caps, etc.

    I don’t see how it will be the end of the world if ISPs could be allowed to offer tiers of service to so-called “content providers” just like they offer different tiers of service to so-called “content consumers” aka residential users.

    Of course, that comes with many caveats.

    The Post Office should not be allowed to charge more for a love letter than some other form of correspondence. It costs them the same, and as a common courier they should be entirely agnostic to message content. However, if you need to send 10 letters, they should charge you 10 times more. Similarly, ISPs should not be allowed to charge different rates for different kinds of data – movie, web browsing, email, etc. However, they can be allowed to charge by the byte while remaining entirely agnostic about what the byte means.

    As mentioned above, the Post Office should not be allowed to charge different rates for different companies. Similarly, ISPs should not be allowed to charge different rates for different companies. They can and should be allowed to offer different tiers of service, but those tiers of service must be available to all companies, and no discounts may be allowed. Further, the different tiers of service must be scalable along with the price tag so that small companies can compete with larger companies. If the smaller company uses half the bandwidth, then it’s charged half as much.

    The Post Office can also offer guaranteed delivery services, tracking services, signing for delivery, etc., for additional charge. I see no reason why ISPs cannot also offer different tiers of service with similar differences. This already happens in residential areas when you compare DSL, cable, T1 lines, etc.

    However again, the Post Office cannot charge you more for delivering to Google’s office than its neighbor. Similarly, the ISPs should not be allowed to distinguish bytes based on source or destination. ISPs must be agnostic to the source and destination in the same way that they should be agnostic about the content.

    We would be quite outraged if the Post Office took letters bound for Google’s office and delayed them by a week, purposefully. We should be similarly outraged when ISPs do that for bytes coming from Skype or Netflix.

    This may be difficult to do in practice when the ISP is also a user of the ISP. In such cases, I advocate breaking up the company under existing monopoly law. Or at the very least heavily regulated.

    I also see throttling schemes as permissible, but full details about throttling need to be published. I want a lot of data about how it happens, how often it happens, etc., to be required to be published in a standardized format as to allow comparisons for consumers. Further, throttling shall be fairly applied across all users of that tier of service.

    To recap: ISPs can charge varying rates for different guarantees of uptime, different bandwidth caps, different data caps, different throttling schemes. Any offer of service available to one large user should be available to any other user and should be properly scaled in price, bandwidth cap, and data cap, to the needs of the second user. ISPs shall not treat data differently based on content, ever. When you pay for a connection, you pay for equal access to the entire internet (or as best as can be accomplished): ISPs shall not give preferential treatment to any destination, except when the destination is at its bandwidth cap or data cap. When you are your own bandwidth cap or data cap, the ISP still shall not give preferential treatment for any address.

    PS: If there is a sufficiently large demand (which I doubt), ISPs could offer services to customers to allow customers to choose preferences based on content and address for data in cases of contention near bandwidth caps, but I doubt this is a service most people would think or even think about. Complications can also arise implementation here, so it might be better off to just not allow it.

    Do people mean something different when they say net neutrality? Does any net neutrality advocate have a problem with my position? Why?

    I get the distinct impression that some net neutrality advocates mean to disallow different tiers of service differentiated by uptime guarantees, data caps and throttling, etc. At the moment, I think that’s a silly position.

  3. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: To be excessively clear, any throttling scheme must throttle the whole connection and cannot target specific kinds of data. Throttling schemes must be content-agnostic. (However again, if the user requests that incoming or outgoing data be prioritized by content or address, that would be allowed. This is an opt-in system which can be opted-out at any time.)

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