[By Ben Noble]
As of today the FCC has repealed its NN rules. I think this is a great thing. It is not the government’s job to play network administrator of the internet. It has no legitimate claim to the property of ISPs, it lacks the expertise, and it has no incentive to be a good steward.
There is a sea of people spinning doomsday prophesies about the FCC repealing Net Neutrality. In short, they are wrong. At best Net Neutrality protects existing ISPs and at worst it would break the internet. I’ll do my best to give you the reasons to oppose government enforced net neutrality. This is a complicated issue and there are many rabbit holes to go down.
The first problem is that the law the FCC used to claim authority to enforce NN is older than the internet. If the FCC is to enforce NN then Congress should legislate it. Allowing agencies to just claim authority out of thin air is a troubling idea.
The New York Times published a video explaining NN. I’ll link to the video at the end of this post. It advocates for all internet traffic to be treated equally and for now preference to be given to some traffic over others. Some people decry what they call “fast lanes”. I believe that it represents what most people envision NN to be. There are a few very serious problems with it. If ISPs are forced to treat all traffic equally, then websites and applications that require high bandwidth and low latency would be completely unusable. Websites that host video and applications that handle audio and video communications require faster speeds then other types of web traffic. They are obviously much more data heavy and any interruptions or delays will prevent them from working well, if at all. It is a common networking practice in all small and large networks (including the internet) to prioritize certain types of traffic over others so that everything runs smoothly. This is called Quality of Service, or QOS, and it is a completely legitimate practice. Websites and applications that don’t require faster connections are usually unaffected by this practice. If the NN rules that the New York Times described was enforced the data hungry websites like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Skype, and others would be crippled.
I have seen many people express concern over companies purchasing “fast lanes”. I don’t understand what is objectionable about this. Each of us purchase internet plans of varying speeds and limitations. I see no problem with companies doing the same to meet the needs of the service they are trying to provide. Internet bandwidth and connectivity is not limitless. Paying for what you use is the fairest way to distribute it. A few years ago I saw a statistic saying that Netflix at its daily peak eats up over 25% of all web traffic. It just might be a legitimate thing to ask them to pay more to carry their traffic.
The other worry is that ISPs might purposefully slow the traffic of websites or services. Is it possible? Yes. Has it happened? It appears so. I believe we already have the tools to address this type of thing. The criminal justice system and the courts. If an ISP is not providing the promised speeds and connectivity, then that is the breaking of a contract and actionable in court. If I remember correctly, the example of Comcast slowing Netflix occurred and was fixed before the FCC passed the NN rules. I would argue that the NN rules are unnecessary on this front.
NN advocates also call for the internet to be treated like a utility. This would open the door to new taxes and regulations. Utilities often have extra taxes applied to them. The FCC also monitors TV and radio for “Obscenity, Indecency & Profanity”. I don’t see why at some point in the future the FCC wouldn’t attempt to control content on the internet. Just a few years ago Congress tried to pass content control over the internet in SOPA and PIPA. Government officials determining how traffic is handled on the internet will just create an incentive to bribe them for special treatment. Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are doing enough censoring. Adding the government to the mix is a bad idea.
I have also seen many people claim that without NN that ISPs would start charging extra to access certain websites or even actions as mundane as doing a search on Google. This is so cartoonish that it is difficult to know where to start. If the ISPs engaged in that practice they would call down hellfire not only from users, but from every company with a web presence. If Comcast dared block or charge users to use Google or Facebook or any other widely used service, they would face the wrath of the largest companies in the world. Web services want their users to be able to use their service. Anyone that gets in the way of that will not go unchallenged.
Net Neutrality is just a band aid on a larger problem: lack of competition. Nearly every level of government is engaged in blocking new ISPs from forming through heavy regulation or purposefully protecting existing ISPs. This is why even Google has abandoned their fiber project. Even with NN the ISPs we have now will have a virtual monopoly and continue to swim in pools of money. NN would be just another protective layer for the ISP monopolies. With Elon Musk, Google, and other companies developing alternative ways of delivering internet without deploying physical wires, I think competition will enter the marketplace by sidestepping government barriers. I think this addresses any legitimate concerns that make NN seem necessary. Your best bet for ISP competition in your area is to pressure local and state governments to stop protecting existing ISPs. This is the only moral action we can take. It is unjust to use government to force an industry to operate according to your opinions.