There is a lot of confusion surrounding Net Neutrality and the recent proposal by Chairman Ajit Pai to remove the Net Neutrality rules enacted in 2015. According to a statement by Pai, “No question, my proposal to repeal Title II regulation and restore Internet freedom will garner most of the headlines…make no mistake: the FCC will be taking up a diverse array of additional proposals to modernize our rules and deliver benefits to consumers.”. For those unaware – the Title II Order is the order that was put in place in 2015 to ensure an open and fair Internet. These rules are:
- No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful internet traffic over other lawful internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind – in other words, no “fast lanes.”. This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.
Seems reasonable right?
The Communications Act of 1934 was the original document to which the Title II Order was applied. This all started when Robb Topolski discovered Comcast blocking the use of Peer-to-Peer networking protocols on their (Comcast’s) data lines (like Bittorrent). This type of service throttling and outright service denial has spurred the fiercely intense net neutrality debate. Comcast then lied about blocking Bittorrent traffic. According to a Public Knowledge article at the time,
Comcast and their cronies around the world are discriminating against particular applications. Cable will argue that network neutrality should never apply to it – it’s never been treated as a common carrier. But the deception here, the aggressive treatment of consumers promised “unlimited bandwidth,” and the presumption that Comcast (and others) should get to choose winners and losers among online applications – that’s adding up to claims that look like lawsuits. Those lawsuits, in turn, may lead, finally, to legislation. Network neutrality is central to our shared economic future here in the U.S., and the carriers are showing they cannot be trusted.
So – At this point, the FCC deregulation of ISPs in 2002 was a total fail. ISPs are showing themselves to be dishonest. And we have solid proof that they denied traffic of a particular type (bittorrent) because they could. This resulted in a November 2007 complaint being filed with the FCC. Comcast and other ISPs cry wolf saying they are denying this traffic based on the FCC allowed principles of, “network management” which, once again, was proven to be completely false. The FCC officially responded to the complaint by launching an investigation into Comcast’s treatment of Bittorrent traffic on January 9th, 2008 and on July 30th issued an order to prohibit Comcast from discriminating against Bittorrent traffic. Comcast didn’t like the response by the FCC and appealed the FCC order to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 6th, 2010 the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in favor of Comcast. In the time it took for the ruling the FCC issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which ultimately culminated in the Open Internet Order.
The court in D.C. rejected the FCC’s use of Title I ancillary authority in punishing Comcast and officially called into question the FCC’s ability to issue net neutrality rules all together. On December 21, 2010 the FCC decides against reclassification of the ISPs and finds other authority to issue the Open Internet Rules. These are the rules in place today that Chairman Pai, and the FCC, are attempting to repeal.
They call the order to reverse the Open Internet Rules the, “Restoring Internet Freedom”. Which is funny because it’s actually doing the exact opposite of “restoring internet freedom”. Pai’s justification of this action being to, “deliver benefits to the consumer”. If these Open Internet Rules do get rolled back you can picture the following “benefits”:
- I have AT&T internet service but Comcast email – AT&T can legally block or throttle access to your Comcast email (since it’s a competitor). Heck – they don’t need a reason to block or throttle you.
- You pay for 50Mbps download speeds but after an hour of Netflix streaming your ISP throttles your connect speeds to 5Mbps then offer you a package (at greater cost of course) to get un-throttled connection speeds.
- You created an application but need to pay higher prices to get your content delivered at faster speeds to the consumers.
Basically – if the FCC repeals these rules there is nothing stopping the ISP’s from screwing the consumer more than they already do. If it wasn’t bad enough that we have 3 to choose from in our service area, they now have the power to charge you more while throttling your connection and potentially blocking services, applications, or websites completely. All in the best interest of the consumer? While I did find some opponents of net neutrality arguing that if ISPs could charge more money for faster content delivery (of Netflix and other services) they would be motivated to develop a faster service and invest more money in their infrastructure and in improving the customer’s experience. In reality, this will likely hurt the actual content producers like Netflix, Google, and Facebook by increasing their costs, so that money is not being invested back into those companies. According to this article, “Critics fear that booting net neutrality will create a “two-tiered” Internet wherein wealthy companies pay for content to be delivered at high speeds while content from startups or small web publishers languishes in the slow lane. The greatest threat to innovation is if new companies, innovative companies, have to pay a lot to be on the same playing field as everybody else.”
Overall, this is a complicated issue but ultimately if you are pro-business then you should be pro-net neutrality since the only ones that clearly benefit from violations of the Open Internet Rules (Net Neutrality Rules) are the ISPs. I see the repeal of the Open Internet Rules as being negative since the benefits of a potential innovation by ISPs does not outweigh the potential for abuse by the ISPs.
Restoring Internet Freedom Proposed Rulemaking – https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-17-60A1.pdf
Press Release on Restoring Internet Freedom – http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db0518/DOC-344948A1.pdf
Statement of Chairman Ajit Pai on Restoring Internet Freedom – https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-17-60A2.pdf
Dissenting Statement of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn – https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-17-60A3.pdf
Statement of Commissioner Michael O’Reilly – https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-17-60A4.pdf
Open Internet Process: Then and Now – http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db0508/DOC-344755A1.pdf
Restoring Internet Freedom Fact Sheet – https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-344614A1.pdf
Communications Act of 1934: as amended by Telecom Act of 1996 – https://transition.fcc.gov/Reports/1934new.pdf
Open Internet Visual Timeline – http://whatisnetneutrality.org/timeline