Net Neutrality Without Regulation

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Opinion about the latest ruling on net neutrality.

In case you have not already heard, the DC Court of Appeals struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet rules imposed in 2010.  Generally known as net neutrality, these rules essentially forbade Internet Service Providers (ISP) from imposing procedures that would limit access or speed for some services.  In other words, the ISPs were required to treat ALL content from ANY source as equal and provide equivalent service. 

The result of this ruling is that ISPs are allowed to control their own networks so that their capability can match the desired services and the demands made on them.  They can even offer tiered levels of service for different prices.  This allows the ISP to develop a business model that not only makes the customers happy but also makes a profit and provides funds for expansion and service improvement.

This ruling should be good news to everyone, but there is a faction that favors government control of the Internet.  They are not happy and I am sure I will hear from some of them.  The interesting thing about this whole net neutrality fiasco is that no one has ever been hurt or helped by these rules.  Can anyone give an example where such rules helped?  I suppose that you could say that since no one was hurt why not leave the rules in place, just in case.  Or if the rules have no effect why impose them in the first place? 

What this seems to be all about is the net neut lobby is trying to predict what could happen or what could go wrong.  These rules seem to be more focused on future business potential or competition than aiding the consumer.  Imagining future problems and making laws to fix them is political and social engineering.  It is what government seems to like to do. 

Anyway, what will happen now?  I suspect the FCC under its latest ruler Tom Wheeler will try again to make some new regulations.  After all, isn’t that government’s job?  I am hoping that the FCC will leave things alone and work on other problems (e.g. more spectrum) and not focus on the non-problem of an open Internet.  Let the Internet remain open as it is now so that it can evolve technologically and economically as companies attempt to serve the consumer but make a few bucks for themselves.

I am not against regulations per se as long as they solve a real problem and benefit the citizens.  But when they are arbitrary, imagined, or a power grab, it is not good for us overall.  If you ever wondered where our freedom went, just look at the federal, state, county and city governments.  They make thousands of new laws each year that fix few and even imagined problems and definitely restrict our actions.  Remember what Ben Franklin supposedly said: “He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 22

on Jan 28, 2014

Your view seems a little short-sighted. Do you actually trust ISP providers to behave in a service neutral way if you don't require them too? I'm sure that every large provider would love to have me use their video streaming service in preference to someone Else's. It's a simple matter to down-speed other services in preference to their own. You make a valid point about enforcement, but you can't enforce a rule that doesn't exist. The last people I would trust are the corporations who's financial interest runs counter it's customers.

on Jan 29, 2014

The scariest words you can ever hear: "Hello we're from the government and we're here to help you."

on Jan 29, 2014

As long as we are just going to resort to inflammatory rhetoric, I will counter that I am rather more frightened by "We're an angry mob and we are here to dismantle the government."

on Jan 29, 2014

You say that like it's a bad thing ... perhaps you missed the "of the people, by the people and for the people" thing?

on Mar 3, 2014

well! It seems to be funny..but I think you are right. I lives in Minneapolis, MN at this time....and I really not want to hear that words.

on Jan 29, 2014

The courts have just enabled coorporate greed to take over the service providers decision making. And you and I will be the victims. I don't trust any of the providers not to line their pockets at our expense. It used to be we were protected by the courts. But they are all bought and paid for by coorporate america.

on Jan 29, 2014

I agree with greenewr. In a level field, competitive market, I could choose the ISP that treats me fairly. And I have been fortunate enough in the past to have that option and did exercise it. Right now I have exactly three high speed ISPs available, only one of which even offers the bandwidth I need.

While this isn't exactly what net-neutrality is about, that ISP blocks certain ports that I would like to upload from my small server, unless I spend twice as much more for their "business class" service, which by the way requires me to rent (not own) the modem and router, which I am not allowed to configure myself. I am paying a monthly fee for that uplink bandwidth, they should not have a right to dictate how I use it. That is the sort of thing government should protect us from. I lack the leverage to insure that I get a level playing field. Net Neutrality is all about that in the downstream direction (it ought to be both). While I resent and distrust excessive government control, I fear unbridled corporations even more. If anyone doesn't understand why, they should read the recent article about Edwin Armstrong and how David Sarnoff destroyed him in the name of making money for his company RCA, even to the point of depriving consumers of better alternatives.

Some might say that a company should be free to make money in any way the see fit. Others might say "way that is legal". I say that any method a company uses to make money that deceives or takes advantage of another person or organization shoudl be illegal.

on Jan 29, 2014

"Hurt or helped by these rules" You can't say they haven't helped since they have been in place since the beginning. Without them we may learn how they helped the hard way! I am sure that my ISP provider at the 30 or 40 bucks a month I pay times the millions of subscribers they have make big bucks even with net neutrality. They ran fiber through my neighborhood a few years ago so they gotta make some money and my stock in them certainly does well and no I don;t trust big Gov any more that I trust big Biz!

on Jan 29, 2014

Lou, it sounds as if you don't really understand what's going on here. Without an active mechanism to insure net neutrality, the cable companies (who frequently also provide internet access) can simply elect to charge much higher rates to services who threaten their cable TV business case, like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Hulu among others, rendering these services uncompetitive. (I guess if you're not what we call a "cable cutter" you might not appreciate the problem quite as much.) I mean it's not as if the cable companies are reluctant to fight the competition, they're taking the Aereo case all the way to the Supreme Court! It looks as if all that really has to happen is for Congress to designate the cable companies "common carriers" then the FCC can regulate them and competition can proceed, but nowadays expecting ANY swift action by Congress is highly problematical at best, and there could still be other legal obstacles we haven't anticipated, which is why some folks are so concerned.

on Jan 29, 2014

While it is folly to trust the government to work in the interests of The People, it is sheer insanity to assume that Corporations will do anything except try to maximize the next quarter's earning statement, regardless of who it hurts.

Giving the ISPs the authority to 'throttle down' content they deem 'less important' gives the corporations carte blanche to shut down websites they don't agree with, by 'throttling down' anything from that site all the way to zero, or if they're not allowed to go all the way to zero (since that would be 'blocking') down low enough (say, 2 baud) that the end user believes the site is not responding.
The 'teired' model is also flawed, since it is not looking at the 'tiers' of end user connection (which is a legal and valid option, if you want more bandwidth for your home or office, you can get it by paying a premium, either going from dial-up to broadband, or adding a second broadband 'pipe' for more capacity) It is looking at charging the CONTENT PROVIDERS for the 'right' to have access to the broadband trunks. Google pays AT&T more than Bing does for the 'teir'? Guess which search engine gets slowed down, and ends up losing popularity.
And, let we forget, since this is an election year (for a third of the Senate and all of the House), that corporations have been declared 'people' with the right to free political speech. The Sprint CEO supports candidate Smith over Candidate Jones, guess which one is going to be 'throttled down' on the Sprint backbone and which will be able to get his message out unimpeded.
This would be less of an issue if there were actual competition between ISPs, but in many areas, even in the built-up urban parts of the country, your choices are limited to one or two. The backbones, on the other hand, are complete regional monopolies, each one covers a certain area, and they don't overlap.

What the FCC needs to do is designate the Internet backbones and the ISPs as 'common carriers,' as they should have from the start.

on Jan 29, 2014

Excuse me? Trust the Cable Monster Monopolists (you know who I mean, both of them) to NOT maximize profits at the expense of their captive customers?
I'm quite certain anyone at the Board of Directors who did NOT vote to take maximum profits by penalizing competing firms would be sued by the shareholders and they would prevail.
The law is MAXIMIZE SHAREHOLDER VALUE and the best way to do this is bleed the users white.
There is no competition, after all, in any market.
I trust government that is accountable to the citizens over business that is accountable only to the holders of 88% of all shares of stock....the 1%

on Jan 29, 2014

This is a victory for private property. I'll give you an example: Say you're making a killing selling cupcakes at $2.95 apiece. Then Alderman Kommisar walks in and tells you that a taxpayer funded study (spared no expense, so it's accurate, I tell you) revealed that there is no place within walking distance where a Citizen might buy freshly baked bread. "You wouldn't deny a man his Daily Bread, would you? Cupcakes put your children in an ivy league school and paid for the cottage at the lake. You must produce 400 loaves of bread, for which we will guarantee you 40 cents a loaf." "But I'll have no capacity left for cupcakes!" "Welcome to 'Bread Neutrality' comrade!"

on Jan 29, 2014

That is a terrible analogy. The baker is analogous to a content provider, not to an ISP. The streets/sidewalks that give access to the baker are analogous to the ISP. The proper analogy to net neutrality would be a rule that says that the streets must allow all comers equal access to any business located thereon.

on Jan 29, 2014

This is not only about commercial speech. Suppose radio stations could charge different rates for commercials based on content? Does anyone think that media moguls that also happen to own cable companies etc will remain neutral?
I am all for the discussion of the rights of commercial interests to do what they want but the internet has become the source for so many people to get information. Should we be celebrating a new way for special interests to filter our information?
Funny how easy it is to mistrust big government and how easy it is to just assume businesses will do the right thing. Isn't this why we have an FCC in the first place? Limited bandwidth for radio and TV mandated that some agency insured that the public had access to diverse opinions and to programming that was "in the public interest". I'm not sure that acting in the public interest is the same as doing what is best for your shareholders. Where will the balance come from now?

on Jan 29, 2014

The problem with unregulated ISP's is they are the new phone company. POTS is going away. The new nationwide utility resource is IP for everything including "dial-up" voice communications. Cable franchises and traditional telephone companies are migrating away from their traditional technologies to packet data. But they are still monopolies! You have access to only two wire line carriers, telephone and cable in most of the US. Wireless services might add a third where topography and bandwidth permits. Competition is very limited. Monopolistic practices are easy to achieve.

The only truly broadband service infrastructure is fiber to the end user. Again, if we are lucky, no more than two sources will be available to most of us! So, regulation will be required to prevent the abuses stemming from lack of choice.

Add to this the ability of your new "common carrier" to block or degrade data packets it deems in competition with its own offerings and you are back to the monopolistic days of the railroad barons.

Fairness will require FCC tariffs that will permit ISP's to charge rates that will yield fair profits for their data handling while protecting the network users from discriminatory practices.

on Jan 29, 2014

The Franklin misquote seems inappropriate for your position. Accepting the kind of regulation that protects individual freedom (here embodied in net neutrality) does not imply that you "give up essential Liberty". Nor is "a little temporary Safety" what is being purchased with the regulation. Please think again.

on Jan 29, 2014

I have in the past been force to drop one VOIP provider and switch to the ISP's VOIP due to quality of service issues. It would have been nice to have chosen VOIP based on features not artificially imposed constraints. However, more important, would be public disclosure of exactly what an ISP is and is not doing so I could make an upfront informed choice. FCC, please don't regulate solutions, regulate honest disclosure.

on Jan 29, 2014

How this could go bad? Easy example: long time ago I bought a domain for me just so I could keep my email address constant, hosted where I chose while my ISP hookup changed ownership and/or brands and hosting several times. So far that works fine, until Verizon decides that any email traffic which is not hosted on their servers is a 2nd class citizen .. and so on...

on Jan 30, 2014

Mr Frenzel doesn't seem to understand that some things do not work well in a "free" marketplace. The InterWeb (as Richard Rawlings amusingly terms it) is one of the best things that ever happened to "democracy". * Service providers must not be allowed to decide who gets better service and who gets poorer -- or who gets service at all.

Why? Because it's not in the interest of "the people" to have a market wholly controlled by those who sell the service.

* Arguably one of the worst, if you've ever taken part in UseNet arguments.

on Jan 30, 2014

Congratulations! You have just argued that regulations aren't necessary if they work. This is similar to arguing that I should throw away my umbrella because I don't get wet when I use it. Or that vaccines aren't necessary because people who get them don't get the disease they are designed to prevent.

The idea that we should believe that corporations will act in the best interests of the public is ludicrous. History provides very few (if any) examples of corporations voluntarily acting in the best interest of the public. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Internet providers will do so, in the absence of regulation to keep them in line.

on Jan 30, 2014

In regard to the comment "The interesting thing about this whole net neutrality fiasco is that no one has ever been hurt or helped by these rules. " Well that's the point. We don't know if we have been hurt or helped. The ISPs are not obligated to disclose how they throttle the internet. One day your Netflix speed is a little slower because the ISP wants to promote their own streaming service. Would you even know?

on Jan 31, 2014

An article "Telecoms want FCC out of Broadband Regulation" by Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post (Seattle Times, Sep 13, 2013, pg A8), says "Verizon and other critics said that the rules were too constraining of business models they might pursue in the future ..." and "The telecom giants have launched efforts to shift regulation ... to other agencies [such as the FTC and Justice Department] that don't have nearly as much power as the FCC." She also notes that these other Agencies are more law-enforcement-oriented, reacting to complaints, rather than writing rules to be followed.

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel is the Communications Technology Editor for Electronic Design Magazine where he writes articles, columns, blogs, technology reports, and online material on the wireless, communications...
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