Have you heard mention of “net neutrality” and wondered what it is and why it matters? Well, it does matter. Let me explain. About a month ago, sometime in early June, while I was out pruning my garden and hoping my tomato plants would really produce this year, I was listening to one of those Saturday morning talk shows on the radio and the guest was ranting and raving about net neutrality. Anyone who knows me knows I would much rather spend a day fishing, hunting, or hiking and not fiddling with some app or watching a video on YouTube. I confess I do not have Snapchat, or an Instagram account, and I’ve never tweeted anything, although I may have accidentally shot a tweety bird with my Daisy Red Rider BB gun when I was 6 years old!
As I continued to listen to this fellow, it became clear to me that he cared a lot about net neutrality and believed everyone else should as well. Okay, now I’m intrigued; what is this net neutrality, how does it affect me, and why should I care?
First, a brief history: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), previously regulated Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as dictated by the Title 1 classification of ISPs, as dictated in the 1934 Communications Act. This provided very little power to the FCC, as evidenced by two major court cases it lost against Comcast and Verizon.
The FCC was sued by Comcast for stating that they couldn’t throttle, artificially slow, traffic of one their customers, BitTorrent. The FCC was also sued by Verizon for saying they couldn’t block sites or give preferential speed to those who “pay to play.” In practical terms this meant that since Verizon had the ability to deliver Internet as a “last mile provider,” they attempted to charge unusually high rates to folks such as Netflix in order to deliver their services to their consumers like you and me.
Let me explain what the term “last mile provider” means. These are the folks that dig the trenches, lay the cable, and bring the Internet or television service to your home. As you can imagine being a last mile provider is difficult. Providers must deal with access to rights of way, permitting, and community concerns about construction and other obstacles. Consequently there are typically only one or two last mile providers in any given area. In my area for example, it is only AT&T and Spectrum. Therefore, no matter who provides to me a service such as Netflix, they must have an agreement in place to provide this service through these specific providers.
Back to the law suites: In both cases, the FCC lost, but the court decision on Verizon pointed them to the solution. Starting in 2015 the FCC invoked Title 2. Essentially, they said ISPs are utilities providers (like phone or electricity) and can be regulated as such. This allowed the FCC to enforce good behaviors from the ISPs.
Given that background, the Trump-era FCC Chairman is now trying to roll back Title 2 as the method by which they regulate ISPs. The argument is that eliminating Title 2 will help business. In reality, not only will this give ISPs the ability to do most anything they want, but it will also deliberately blind the FCC to those actions. It removes any transparency requirements for ISPs in terms of their practices.
Deregulating ISPs is a bad move for consumers and for a free market. ISPs are already close to monopolistic, and as such, need to be regulated like a utility to ensure fair and equal access for businesses and consumers alike. At this point, Title 2 classification is the best way to do that until Congress decides to defend that right with a law (and that could be a LONG time coming).
If you want more; see this excellent summary of why this is only helpful to the major ISP’s and harmful to the public in an FCC Comment filing here (authored by one of the smart guys at the Denim Group here in San Antonio): https://gregleeds.com/dear-fcc/
To read more, you can look here:
A special thanks goes to my friend, Kyle Pippin, a Product Manager with Denim Group here in San Antonio. Kyle provided valuable input to helping me better understand net neutrality. Denim Group is a Cyber Security firm. www.denimgroup.com