I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and commentary from people regarding Net Neutrality and the ongoing debate about the FCC’s involvement. It is easy to boil down the issue to a simple “for” or “against” Net Neutrality stance. Today that generally means “for the FCC involvement” or “against the FCC involvement”. Like most things in life, the decision is not that simple.
What Is Net Neutrality
In simple terms, I’ll use my version of what Tim Wu said, Net Neutrality declares that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be limiting service to-or-from Internet content. In other words, Comcast should not make your connection to NetFlix run far slower than a connection to their competing online video services. Comcast, and others, have used their control of the “Internet pipes” (which Al Gore may or may not have invented) to go to companies like NetFlix and demand a “ransom”. “Pay us a bazillion dollars or we will make your movies so slow people would rather read books than use your service.”, was the general terms of the agreement. Of course I’m generalizing here and am only using a completely fictional account of past historic events, but something similar to this is already going on.
In general most people, including nearly every single Internet related service in the United States is 100% for Net Neutrality. Except the ISPs. Comcast HATES it, mostly because they hate anything that makes their customers happy. A bunch of other companies including AT&T, Verizon, and many of the other biggest established price-fixing corporations also hate Net Neutrality. It takes away a big part of the future revenue that continues to bolster their profits by billions of dollars. The absolutely do not want to rework budget forecasts that make for huge dividends and stock price increases over the next 20 years.
Why Net Neutrality Now Sucks
As seems to be the case any time someone comes up with a good idea, the Federal Government has gotten involved and completely screwed things up. Leave it to the current administration to make matters even worse. In a brilliant play, the politicians that want the US Government to control-and-tax every single aspect of your life have commandeered the previously-sane concept of “Net Neutrality” and applied it to THEIR VERSION of Net Neutrality which means “The FCC rules the Internet”. They do this by reclassifying all Internet Service Providers under Title II of the US Telecommunications Act of 1934 (Title 47, Chapter 5, Subchapter II to be specific). This is what is generally known in the Net Neutrality discussion as “Title II”.
The short layperson’s version of what this means is that the FCC will make all the rules about Internet access. They will decide how it operates, what taxes, fees, and related income-grabbing levies to assess. They will decide WHO gets to provide those services by refusing to grant licenses when a new ISP comes in to threaten established ISPs. While the incumbent ISPs have fought hard against Net Neutrality in its original form, they are now secretly “doing the happy dance” while the new incumbent-friendly softer version of Net Neutrality managed by the FCC is on the table.
Yes, the incumbent ISPs will be required to adhere to yet more government regulations, but at the end of the day the Title II version of Net Neutrality kills any innovation in “last mile” Internet service (last mile is the part you, as a consumer, care about). Title II Net Neutrality means you will likely NEVER see a new ISP offering to come onto the market. Like your electric utility, what you have now is what you’ve got FOREVER. It also means that you are VERY LIKELY to be paying higher fees to your ISP as they claim the new regulations increase their costs due to compliance. You will end up paying MORE for the same sucky service you already have.
The amazing part about Title II Net Neutrality is that it does NOT explicitly prevent the ISPs from creating those “Internet fast lanes” you keep hearing about. It just means that if they do something the FCC doesn’t like they pay a fine. There are a thousand different ways to craft those fast lanes that are perfectly FINE under Title II which means the ISPs aren’t breaking the rules and won’t have to worry about the FCC stopping them.
Some interesting notes about Title II Net Neutrality. Tom Wheeler is pushing for it and he was a BIG TIME cable company lobbyist. The current administration, that gave us unprecedented domestic surveillance, is all for it. Most Internet content providers, the companies whose services you like to visit most on the Internet are AGAINST this flavor of Net Neutrality.
Bottom line: Title II Net Neutrality is a BAD idea.
Net Neutrality That Doesnt’ Suck
What is now largely ignored is a proposal for a NEW BILL that has been crafted by John Thune and Ford Upton that provides the version of Net Neutrality that everyone wanted when they said they supported “Net Neutrality”, myself included. This bill is designed SPECIFICALLY to take control out of the FCCs hands. Everyone knows the FCC is a regulatory quagmire with a penchant for generally “screwing things up” and making it nearly impossible for a small business to operate in any industry they touch. The new bill AMMENDS the Communications act of 1934 and specifically prevents section 706 from taking control of Internet services.
This is truly the best approach. However the Obama Adminstration and the FCC and the incumbent ISPs are STRONGLY OPPOSED to this measure. In fact it is largely rumored that the current administration has been pushing the FCC to take immediate and decisive action to pass the Title II version of Net Neutrality before the proposed bill can get any traction. Various pundits have been employed to bury the discussion about the proposed bill.
Most small businesses that live-and-die on the Internet support this type of bill. Personally I don’t think this bill is perfect, but is a whole-hell-of-a-lot better than Title II Net Neutrality and it is better than “let the ISPs do whatever the hell they want”.
Thune Upton Net Neutrality is a GOOD idea.
The sad part of all this is that if government control over “last mile” was not already screwing things up we’d have more than one or two true broadband ISPs to choose from in a majority of cities and towns in America. If that were the case there would be TRUE COMPETITION in the market and Net Neutrality would be a non-issue. However we live in a state of Internet access where it is a quasi-government-regulated market where the only person getting screwed is the consumer and the ISPs hold all the cards.
If there is any argument that more clearly highlights why Title II Net Neutrality should NOT be passed, it is that lack of innovation and service selection over the last mile. You cannot start a company that provides high speed to homes and businesses without incurring major obstacles. Why? Government fees and regulations. This will only get FAR WORSE if Title II Net Neutrality is passed.
Thune Upton Net Neutrality is not perfect. It is, however, a necessary evil given the current state of affairs with Internet access in America. Sadly, Thune/Upton SUCK at marketing. They needed to take over the term Net Neutrality for their own, much like the FCC did. Now they need to come up with a new “sexy” label they can apply to their bill that the general population can get stuck in their brain. Maybe something as simple as “Unsucky Net Neutrality”. OK, I’m not a marketing guy either.
Whatever they call it, they need to get traction NOW before Obama and his FCC cronies do something horrible that permanently damages Internet-centric innovation in America.
Net Neutrality sucks except when it doesn’t.