Net Neutrality: a view from several sides

Net Neutrality is the work version of “Mom, can we have a dog?” It comes up again and again and again. In May, I posted a summary on Net Neutrality from the Congressional Research Service. Last summer I wrote about the impact on the Presidential election on Net Neutrality and the connection to the US Court of Appeals calling broadband a utility. And back in 2015 there were articles on Net Neutrality and the budget, the FCC Open Internet report and the pros and cons.

But it looks like it’s coming up again because FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) introduced his plan for reversing the net neutrality regulations on Nov. 21. The FCC is scheduled to vote on Pai’s proposal at a December 14 meeting; Republican commissioners now hold a 3-2 advantage in the FCC.

But according to morning consult

Fifty-two percent of registered voters in a Nov. 21-25 poll said they support the current rules, which stipulate that internet service providers like Comcast Corp., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. “cannot block, throttle or prioritize certain content on the Internet.” Eighteen percent of voters in the nationwide poll said they were opposed to the rules, and another 29 percent said they didn’t know or had no opinion.

I have to say it’s impressive that 70 percent polled have an opinion on such a wonky topic. (Work from John Oliver and others have helped.)

I thought I’d try to scan some resources to help keep folks informed:

TDG boils it down to three scenarios…

  1. Blatant Discrimination Against Particular Services Is Not That Likely
  2. Blatant Favoritism Of Particular Services Is Quite Likely
  3. Different Tiers Of Services Based On Ability To Pay Is Overwhelmingly Likely

Susan Crawford – says Net Neutrality is distracting us from a bigger issue…

Pai is hoping to use outrage over net neutrality to drive everyone into the mosh pit of special interests that is lobbying on Capitol Hill. There will be strident calls from every side for reworking the existing Telecommunications Act to ensure that net neutrality continues. Just watch: The incumbents will piously say, “We like net neutrality too! We just need a different statute.” That’s a trap. We have a perfectly good statute already, and the Obama-era FCC’s interpretation of that statute so as to ensure an open internet—including its labeling of these giant companies as common carriers, which was necessary in order for open internet rules to be enforceable—has already been found reasonable. On the Hill, the public will be out-lobbied at every turn by the essentially unlimited resources of Comcast, Charter, CenturyLink, Verizon, and AT&T.

The real problem is a complete absence of leadership and policy aimed at making sure that low-priced, ubiquitous, world-class fiber optic services reach every home and business. Left to their own devices, the giant US companies Pai is determined to protect have every incentive to divide markets, avoid capital investments in upgrades to fiber that reach everyone, charge as much as they can get away with, and leave out poorer and rural people. That is in fact what has happened here.

Doug Dawson says the teeth of Net Neutrality is really in Title II…

But I still think people are right to support net neutrality. But the issue they should care about is not net neutrality, but the basic Title II regulation. That is the framework the FCC used as the basis for passing the net neutrality rules. These rules largely allow the FCC to regulate broadband in the same manner they have regulated telephone service. The ISPs challenged the FCC’s Title II regulations in court and the courts have upheld the FCC’s right to regulate broadband.

The ISPs hate Title II regulation, but not because it imposes the net neutrality principles. Their real fear is that the FCC will use these rules to regulate broadband prices. A lot of analysts think that the big ISPs are planning on significant rate increases over the next few years. While the Wheeler FCC said they would not regulate rates, the Title II rules grants the FCC authority to do so at any future time. And the FCC can regulate more than just prices and has the authority to regulate things like data caps.

The big ISPs have been working hard to repeal the Title II regulation due to the threat of price regulation – not because they don’t want the net neutrality principles. There are numerous quotes from the CEOs of the big ISPs saying that they could live with the net neutrality principles – and I largely believe them.

WIRED talks about what could happen if Net Neutrality is repealed…

If Congress allows Pai’s plan to pass, all that will be left of FCC oversight of broadband providers is a weak disclosure requirement: If Verizon, for example, wants to block content, charge sites to be viewable on its network, or create paid fast lanes, the company will simply have to tell its subscribers in their contract’s fine print. (Broadband providers won’t have to disclose, and the FCC won’t have control over, the sneakier ways they’ve found to mess with the internet.)

Enforcement will be left to the Federal Trade Commission, an agency that’s never enforced open internet rules and has no ability to formulate its own. The FTC won’t even be able to protect consumers against most net neutrality violations after the fact, and nor will it be able to protect consumers against greedy broadband providers.

And ZDNet’s more tempered view of proposed changes…

After days and days digging through all of this, I am reasonably certain that Chairman Pai’s actions will not kill, destroy, or take away net neutrality. Most of the core traffic protections we have (weak as they are) will still exist and remain unchanged.

Whether or not mobile internet service is classified as information or telecommunications will probably neither increase nor decrease what you spend or what you can access — at least any more than it has in the last few years.

I am not saying that I support Chairman Pai’s proposed rule changes. Frankly, I think they’re a waste of everyone’s time, and everyone’s rage. I also don’t see much in them that are nearly as dire as reporting would have you believe. For those dire reports to be true, we would have to have had far broader protections, with far fewer loopholes, already.

INC Magazine’s Gene Marks supports Pai’s proposal. He offers three reasons why…

  1. Reason One: The Internet Will Be Faster.
  2. Reason Two: It Will Encourage Investment
  3. Reason Three: Yes, The Government Is Still Watching
This entry was posted in Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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