Don’t Kill the Open Internet

Net Neutrality keeps Internet Open

This really is about healthcare, believe me. It’s also about free speech, commerce, education, employment, and the open Internet, so read on.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to gut Net Neutrality consumer protections and kill open Internet competition as a result. That’s not surprising since he formerly worked as an attorney for Verizon Communications, but there are many issues that are not well understood, and not being discussed.

I am so bothered by this that I sent personal notes to the five FCC Commissioners, shared my Net Neutrality perspectives, and urge them NOT to gut Net Neutrality.

DEFINITION

Broadly, Net Neutrality requires Internet service providers to enable access to all legal content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

Net Neutrality is NOT about treating high-bandwidth apps (online gaming & video streaming) the same as low-bandwidth apps (sensor monitoring and email traffic), because that makes perfect sense. A life-saving medical alert, for example only consumer about 100 characters, but streaming a $2 movie rental consumes dozens of gigabytes. No, Net is about protecting consumers and fair competition by treating similar traffic the same (Yahoo! search results & videos versus Google results and YouTube).

THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT NET NEUTRALITY ISSUES, with details following:

  1. Net Neutrality Enables The Internet Economy.
  2. Net Neutrality Facilitates Competition among Apps, Services, Content, and Devices.
  3. Net Neutrality Protects Free Speech.

#1 – NET NEUTRALITY ENABLES THE INTERNET ECONOMY. High-speed, always-on Internet access has become so central to eCommerce, eBanking, Telehealth, Telework, Distance Learning, and National Security that it should be highly regulated as Strategic Public Infrastructure, not controlled by a few grateful oligarchs with monopoly power and little regulatory oversight. But how big is the Internet Economy? McKinsey made a bold attempt to measure the Internet economy in 2011, defining it as the “private consumption (electronic equipment, e-commerce, broadband subscriptions, mobile Internet, and hardware and software consumption); private investment (from the telecommunications industry and the maintenance of extranet, intranet, and Web sites); public expenditure (spending and buying by government in software hardware and services); and trade (which accounts for exports of Internet equipment plus business-to-business services with overseas companies).” SOURCE: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/11/the-8-trillion-internet-mckinseys-bold-attempt-to-measure-the-e-conomy/247963/. McKinsey estimated the global Internet Economy to be $8 trillion/year, but that’s just the Internet itself. “The Internet’s contribution to our lives is nearly impossible to measure,” and that includes the many industries that rely on the Internet.

#2 – NET NEUTRALITY FACILITATES COMPETITION AMONG APPS, SERVICES, CONTENT, AND DEVICES. Network operators should not be allowed to determine what apps, services and content you can use, or what companies’ devices can be connected to the network. In many ways, across many industries, our nation’s ability to compete on the world stage depends on our tech innovation and ability to develop forward-looking online apps and services, but that presents a Chicken-v-Egg dilemma. That development work often depends on having access to the high-speed networks they will eventually depend on. If startup companies can’t get this access, they can’t even begin development and testing. Creating that competitive development environment is an important role of government, so much so that broadband carriers must be prevented from leveraging monopoly positions in network operations to gain competitive advantages in apps, services and content, including streaming video and music services. While these companies must be allowed to choose what business they are in, that should be either in highly-regulated network operations, or unregulated apps and content, but not both.

#3 – NET NEUTRALITY PROTECTS FREE SPEECH. Without Net Neutrality protections, broadband providers can use deep packet inspection, throttling, and filtering to determine winners and losers, what news and facts we see, and what voice we have in protest. This danger, combined with an earlier FCC ruling that allows media companies to gain monopoly control of all media (TV, radio and print) in any city, poses a severe threat to truth and our democracy.

Other Reasons Why Net Neutrality is Important:

ISSUE #4 – DEMOCRACY. Our national heritage and democracy is under attack when a small number of unelected officials, appointed by an authoritarian President, are allowed to control the networks that govern our economy for political purposes while strengthening the monopoly power of multinational corporations and the oligarchs who run them.

BIG Broadband: Public Infrastructure or Private Monopoly

ISSUE #5 – BIG BROADBAND. In BIG Broadband: Public Infrastructure or Private Monopolies,” a white paper written for consumer advocates and policymakers, I contrast the different incentives of incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), cable television (CATV) companies, municipalities and other stakeholders. The paper suggests that the capital expense of extending fiber closer to premises is high enough to cause the ILECs to cherry pick the most profitable customers in green field installations, leaving others to fend for themselves. That’s where public broadband comes in.

ISSUE #6 – FIBER-OPTICS. BIG Broadband and Gigabit to the Home is a 2006 presentation that offer examples of high-bandwidth apps that can’t even be considered without much faster networks already in place. I developed the slides to promote gigabit networks when other network visionaries were still calling for a national broadband strategy of just 100 Mbps. Anyone who ever took Queuing Theory in college remembers the “turnpike effect,” where billions are spent on new highway infrastructure, but as soon as the highway opens it is already congested.

ISSUE #7 – HEALTHCARE. As founding editor of Modern Health Talk, I write about healthcare policy and the role of technologies like telehealth in defining a preferred healthcare future that’s driven by Moore’s Law and the exponentially accelerating pace of tech innovation. In that capacity I responded to an FCC call for comments about their Broadband Health Imperative. (My submitted comments are highlighted.)

MY PERSPECTIVE – As a retired IBM technologist, digital home consultant, and consumer advocate, I once served on the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee and participated in three working groups there: Advanced Technologies, Homeland Security, and Rural & Underserved Communities. I traveled from Austin to D.C. several times a year on my own dime for this unpaid position and was subjected to intense scrutiny to be sure there were no conflicts of interest. I was forced to resign that volunteer FCC position when I later decided to give up my consulting job for a market strategy position at Dell. While at IBM in the early 1990s, I responded to an RFP by the City of Austin for citywide fiber, but AT&T got a state law passed to prevent public ownership of fiber. We lost that battle but won the next one years later when AT&T tried to extend their public fiber ban to include Wi-Fi too. They wanted to prevent municipalities from offering free wireless networks, but a small grass roots movement that I worked with gained enough public attention to defeat their legislation proposal.

Comments on “Don’t Kill the Open Internet

  1. RELATED ARTICLES:

    FCC votes to repeal net neutrality, raising implications for telehealth and remote monitoring (FierceHealthcare)

    When The FCC Kills Net Neutrality, Here’s What Your Internet Could Look Like (Forbes)

    FCC net neutrality process ‘corrupted’ by fake comments and vanishing consumer complaints, officials say (Washington Post)

    2:45min Facebook video (by The Future is Now) is easy to watch

    Why Net Neutrality Matters Even in the Age of Oligopoly (Wired) Here’s my summary:

    The 2015 Open Internet Order, among other things:
    * Reclassifies broadband (wireless or not) as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. Broadband was previously under Title I as an information service. Title II makes broadband subject to stricter ‘common carrier’ regulation. Title II is important because it states that common carriers cannot “make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.” This translates to net neutrality for many folks.
    * Bans blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.
    * Creates a general conduct standard that ISPs cannot harm consumers and gives the FCC the authority to address questionable practices, or investigate ISPs.

    Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his intent:
    In May of this year, Chairman Pai proposed a rulemaking to reexamine the 2015 regulatory framework and embrace a “light touch” approach. More specifically, among other things, the order proposes to:
    1. Make broadband a Title I service once again.
    2. Eliminate the general conduct standard.
    3. Seek comment on the blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization rules.
    In November of this year, Chairman Pai announced his proposal that is scheduled for a vote on December 14th. The proposal would roll back almost all of the 2015 Open Internet Order except the disclosure requirement. I.e., if Verizon wants to block content you see, they just have to let you know that can happen in their terms of service. A good article on the new proposal: https://www.wired.com/story/fcc-wants-to-kill-net-neutrality-congress-will-pay-the-price/

    Republicans/Chairman Pai/ISP reasoning:
    * Title II regulation has hurt investment in broadband networks. Since the 2015 rules were passed, there has been a slight dip in investment.
    MY RESPONSE: Capitalism encourages innovation and investment risk-taking, as long as there’s a level playing field. But market forces don’t work among oligopolies with monopoly power. Network operators simply don’t invest when they don’t have to, i.e. without competition. AT&T and Time Warner, for example, both announced plans to offer to gigabit services in Austin the day after Google announced its only gigabit plans. That would not have happened without Google’s competitive push. Google strategy folks told Wayne they never planned to profit from broadband but simply needed to light a fire under competitors so future broadband apps, content and services could be added.
    * Less investment means less broadband for low-income, rural, and urban neighborhoods.
    MY RESPONSE: There exist some programs to assist with rural broadband development such as the Federal Universal Service Charge. That fee is already paid to network operators to encourage expansion into low-income, rural and urban neighborhoods.
    * Network management is necessary because some bandwidth hogs may adversely affect other services.
    MY RESPONSE: Title II does NOT prevent giving high priority to high-value content like a life-saving alert from a medical sensor that only needs to send a few dozen characters, and lower priority to relatively low-value content like a streamed movie with many gigabytes of content. What it does prevent is giving one’s own video content priority over that of a competitor.

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