Net Neutrality – When Two Tribes Go To War

To tell you the truth, I’ve written and rewritten this post so many times that I’ve lost track of the number, and yet each time I’ve started over, I discover another nuance to this subject that I previously either overlooked or just did not know.  Likewise, I’ve found that I’ve had to really explore and in some cases rethink, my personal opinions on the matter.   It’s one of those subjects that is as certifiably troubling as it is far-reaching in its implications.   The battle over net neutrality, politically, ideologically and technically reaches far beyond what most people think net neutrality is about.  Most of America, get this, are not involved in the operations of the internet and have no idea that this battle is even being fought, let alone, the implications of its outcome.

What do you think Net Neutrality is?

According to Wikipedia -

Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for user access networks participating in the Internet that advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and the modes of communication.

The principle states that if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for the same level of access, then the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access

Currently, everybody online right now is experiencing the basic principle of net neutrality.   We connect to any site we want to via our web browsers, we connect to online services via UI’s like Seesmic, twhirl or tweety, and we can access the web via our smart phones, like the IPhone, Blackberry or Android phones.  We take our online living very seriously and personally, joining communities, creating discussions, viewing news, reading blog posts that interest us, and shopping for the things we want, without many problems.  We create websites like personal family sites, information sites, blogs, forums, video sharing or e-commerce sites, and generally we need only to invest in the right type of hosting, and some underlying security and support structures.  If we want people to actually find our site online, we invest in search engine marketing, advertising and social outreach.  I’m oversimplifying having a presence online a bit, but the basics are there.  There should be no identity, governmental or private, that hinders our access to the web or hinders our online properties from being accessed.

That basic freedom to access and be accessed on the web in the way we are all accustomed to is, in my opinion, very much at stake, and those who are blissfully unaware of what’s going on and how it will affect our online lives is an issue that is as frightening to me as the future of internet access.  If you are of the frame of thought that the net neutrality issue is NOT an issue, that somehow either free market principles or a governing body like the FCC, or just sheer internet power and expanding technologies will do away with any problems we might face, I would love to join you in a collective “Close my eyes and go to that happy place until everything goes away” group hug.  More than once in my life I have overreacted to issues, and for all of our sakes, I sincerely hope that this is one of those times.  But something about the current state of debate is different this time around, and my internal ohshitometer is blinking up a storm and is making my brain itchy.

Hey, wanna see an ugly fight?

Probably the worst thing that could happen to the net neutrality debate is that it has entered into the political arena, where the daily cacophony of ideological babble has turned the subject into a big, wet, seething mass of toxic putrid meat covered in coaxial cables, CAT5, feces covered spikes and cat piss soaked razor wire…and that’s on a slow day.  At times, you would think that someone gave two mentally challenged hyenas chainsaws and blowtorches and told them the subject for debate was “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”  Flame war, as a term, pales in comparison to the spit balls on fire exchange that is currently going on.  A search online for anything having to do with net neutrality will lead you into a world of incredulous claims and unfounded assertions, the likes of which make a clear headed adult want to cry.  Both camps, pro and con, have valid points and just as equal shady points.  Where it gets really wretched is when the social distortion of us vs them and the batshit insane arguments made by people who, polarized by political or ideological messages and FUD, and certainly entitled to their opinion, feel that those in the opposition are employed by the Lucifer Holdings Inc. and should die in a fire while being eaten by zombies in lederhosen.  Ahhh, the internet, you have to love it.

No matter what side of the argument you stand on, both pro and anti net neutrality proponents have a significant stake in the outcome.    You can say that the neutrality argument is ultimately about the freedom of the internet and those using it (which it most certainly is,) but to overlook the huge piles of cash in the corner, behind the Wizard of Oz curtains, would be a foolish oversight.   When business entities as large as those involved are in a slobber knocker, the results off the outcome will affect everyone, whether they are in the fight or not.  We who paddle in the wake of these giant companies are going to see changes in our online lives.

Egregious arguments.  Who’s worse?

On one side, you have the proponents of net neutrality, which have banded together in various organizations to lobby the government and the FCC to pass net neutrality regulations in order to maintain the free access of information that is the current norm.    On the other side are the opponents of net neutrality, which have also have formed groups to lobby congress and the FCC directly to not regulate the internet in any way and allow the market to provide access as it has always done, without restrictions or regulations that they consider would hurt innovation.

Both of these arguments, which I think I’ve whittled down to their most basic form, are valid points of view and sound completely reasonable.  Up until now, there has not existed a distinct net neutrality law and the internet world has relied mostly on a hands-off approach.  However, you can argue that government regulation of the internet has existed under regulatory provisions policies of the FCC under Title II of the Communications Act which categorized the internet as telecommunications services, as well as by provisions set forth by the FTC.  In 2005, the FCC reclassified Internet regulations under Title 1 as an information service.

President Obama pledged support for net neutrality in his campaign, and his pick for FCC Chairman, has been championing reclassification of the internet back under Title II, up until it lost a Supreme Court hearing against Comcast.  Now however, he’s proposing a new set of rules, which surprisingly, the ISP’s actually love to death.  Now you can see why the aforementioned ohshitometer started blinking.  Where the conversation gets really muddled, and downright scary, is the subject of paid prioritization.

Paid prioritization may be used by ISP’s to charge for delivering some content faster than others.  They want to charge content publishers priority access to their customers and have clearly announced the intention to do so.  The ISP’s propose that the growing need for broadband services must be paid for, and charging content providers fees is one of the ways to improve their connectivity to users and help pay for broadband innovation and expanding the services.   Sometimes these fees are referred to as QoS fees, or Quality of Service.

Obviously, online giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon don’t like the paid prioritization argument in any way, shape, or form, and support net neutrality enthusiastically.    The looming danger of paid prioritization practices would put a serious dent in their market share and profitability.  They enthusiastically support net neutrality laws; any altruistic motives might be questionable.  So many have come together in groups or initiatives to support neutrality laws with others entities like Free Press, The ACLU, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and Net Coalition.  These groups memberships are an impressive list of who’s who of some of the most profitable companies on the internet. Some of these include:

Open Internet Coalition

Save The Internet

Internet For Everyone

However, among them are also neutrality proponents of a more ideological bent as well.  You owe it to yourself to read through the list of members.

Other neutrality proponents, like the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, have concerns over the wording of the FCC’s neutrality proposal because of what it finds as a loophole in wording concerning the “unlawful distribution of copyrighted works.”  So now you know why the Entertainment Industry is all for neutrality laws.

One of my favorite groups can really and truly be called grassroots.  The Open Source Democracy Foundation, founded by those lovable scamps at Reddit.com

But what’s evident in that list is that there are a lot of e-commerce sites on there.  If they are seeing a danger to its bottom line, should that mean that I, as an online retailer, should be seeing that danger as well?

Opponents of any FCC neutrality regulations would include..every major ISP in the United States, including AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Verizon, under the auspices of Hands Off The Internet,  (You would think these giants of industry would remember to re-register their domain) along with conservative action groups like Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Foundation, The Progress & Freedom Foundation for starters.  Before FCC Chairman Genachowski introduced his current proposal for regulations, these groups steadily lobbied the FCC to not regulate the internet in any way, or to greatly limit the role of government.  They have argued that non-regulated, free market principles and access to competing providers would objectively regulate the broadband space, and provide for the investments needed to improve broadband service across the US.  They also argue that paid prioritization is absolutely necessary for recouping funds needed to manage their networks and invest in expansion.

One of the first salvos of the paid prioritization view was fired by SBC (now AT&T) CEO Edward Whitacre in 2005 in Business Week Magazine:

How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?

How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_45/b3958092.htm

AT&T has been one of the most vocal ISP’s that have made a case against any net neutrality rules, and are very active in sending the FCC it’s written opinions on the matter.   In one, “AT&T Comments to FCC on Net Neutrality ” (179 pages.  You have been warned)  paid prioritization takes center stage.

As discussed in our opening comments, the proposed “nondiscrimination” rule would be grossly overbroad in two key respects. First, as described in paragraphs 106 and 107 of the NPRM, that rule would not be merely (or even primarily) a nondiscrimination requirement in any meaningful sense of that term, but something far more onerous, in that it would flatly prohibit any voluntary commercial relationship in which a broadband access provider “charge[s]” an application or content provider “for enhanced or prioritized access to [an end user]” over unspecified links in the portion of the provider’s network closest to that end user. NPRM ¶ 106. This is not a “nondiscrimination” rule; it is a line-of-business restriction.

It continues

Proponents of net neutrality gloss over these infirmities, supporting the proposed rule as though it were an ordinary “nondiscrimination” requirement. But decades of administrative law precedent confirm that it is nothing of the sort. It has never been considered “discriminatory” (much less unreasonably so) under principles of common carriage for a provider to offer different tiers of service to different purchasers, depending on their needs and preferences, even when buyers of the higher-tiered services receive greater priority than other users to shared transmission resources.

ISP’s argue that prioritization is already in use and not subject to scrutiny, such as the use of dedicated hosting to boost performance or CDN (content delivery networks) to avoid bottlenecks at the server.  It seems as if they are arguing that since they are in the CDN business themselves, they should be able to charge for priority access across the spectrum.  No doubt that they have a point to make, but I’m starting to take a bit of issue with that assertion that this practice is an example of why paid prioritization practices or discriminatory practices should be allowed as part of their business model.  The ISP’s have not directly mentioned, other than Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon and Facebook, which types of content providers they want to charge prioritization fees, but I’m getting a sinking feeling that their hinting that it’s small businesses like me.  I don’t agree with this position, and my thoughts mirror those of Benoit Felton, CEO of Diffraction Analysis.  In his blog post,  The Slow Suicide of Net Discrimination, he wrote -

There’s nothing that suggests that in an authorized tug o’ war between network operators and the new generation of content and application providers, things wouldn’t go exactly the same way. In fact there’s every reason to believe otherwise. Broadband, as I have often argued, is not a service per se, it’s just something that enables the customer to access services. In other words, I don’t buy my broadband because of the Orange, AT&T or Singtel brands, I buy it because I want Facebook, Youtube and the thousands of other cool services available online.

Think about this: if Google was to refuse a toll to access the AT&T network and discontinued its services over the AT&T network as a consequence, who would suffer the most ? I think it would be AT&T, and I think it would have very quick effects on their customer churn. I don’t think it will ever get to that, but it does suggest that the only content and application providers that the network operators could badger into paying would be small guys who probably can’t afford to pay anyway.

I see it as my role as an analyst to tell the emperors I interact with they are naked (if they are), but in this instance I found it stunning that despite defending a net-discrimination position whole-heartedly my clients seemed never to have looked at the economics. This in turn tells me that inside these organizations this stance works as an ideology and that no factual information can displace this belief that a net-discriminated internet would allow them to solve their perceived revenue issues.

I would be remiss if I didn’t put some things into perspective from the web property owners’ point of view.  In principle, no one hinders your site from reaching those that want to see it, but as site owners, we take measures to improve our accessibility.  Those who have online properties pay and use technology to improve website rendering efficiencies on a daily basis, dependent on the capacity needed to run their online applications for minimum acceptable performance from the internet users point of view.  For instance, I run an e-commerce site selling umbrellas.  The platform I’ve chosen to run my catalog of products and the ability to purchase those products (Magento if you’d like to know) requires enough processing power on my server platform to:

  1. Actually run
  2. Render the presentation HTML to the user in what is an acceptable amount of time.

So I’m paying some wampum for an enterprise level VPS platform with guaranteed performance and traffic capacity so that visitors to my site will be able to view it in the manner they are used to and will accept.  Do I HAVE to do that?  No, I can run that application on a shared hosting environment, and it might actually run for the first five people that visit the site, but would churn down to a crawl when the sixth person arrives, and in turn, slow it down for everybody else afterward, including the five that got there first.  This is hardware performance, nothing else.  I don’t think I have to tell you what happens to any website that runs slow all the time, or times out while you’re on it.  You move on to something else with a smirk of disgust.  Also, I’m already paying for bandwidth via my hosting provider, who contracts and pays their Tier 1 providers to ensure my site is available across the internet.  So no ISP’s, that isn’t a prioritization example.

What?  You thought that Facebook was hosted on a shared hosting plan?

The fact remains however, that both users and content providers already pay for access to the internet.  In theory, net neutrality really has nothing to do with the fact that access to the internet is something we have to pay for.  Tim Berners-Lee (you do know who that is right?) My Comcast and VPS hosting bills says otherwise.  What’s troubling about the debate is what happens after that connection is made.

Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn’t pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will.

Right about here is when my head started to spin.  It’s obvious to me that the neutrality debate is incredibly complicated, and any decision to enforce regulation or not, carries consequences that we have yet to understand.  The internet, and online business in particular, is at one of those “points in time” that history is made.  What really started confusing me is that many internet marketing providers weren’t very vocal on the matter.  Search as I might, I only found a few in the online marketing arena to have an opinion on it.    I found myself asking whether or not this issue crossed their desks, or, if they just didn’t want to get involved.  This is a bit confusing for an industry that not only tells prospective customers that they must be on the internet, but also that they should hire them to maximize their efforts.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “calling out” or “crying foul” on this, I just wish I had a bit more insight on it.

So I contacted a few voices that I really wanted to hear from.  To be fair, some tried to answer my questions, but I’m positive time and busy schedules didn’t allow.  However, I was really happy and honored when Aaron Wall from SEOBook gave me his thoughts on the matter, particularly with his issues with Google -

Generally an informed society which has abundant access to information, and entrepreneurs who have fairly open access to markets are both things that a person would have to be either self-serving or an idiot to be against. But, like most other important words in the political economy, it gets warped. Thus I view the words “net neutrality” as a political issue claimed to be supported by many business interests for furthering their own business interests. Whatever versions are supported are supported only to weaken competitors or strengthen one’s own business positions. Google is a good example of this in how they considered net neutrality fundamental, and then did back room deals with the likes of Verizon.

Society preaches the virtues of transparency, but think of how hard financial engineers went to hide their losses over the past decade. The self dealing that was core to CDOs, all the stuff that is off the balance sheet and held at inflated values today. Think of all the fraud and deceit that was core to them booking their “profits” before letting the rest of society eat the mirroring “losses.”

Yes it turns out that almost everyone is in support of open markets and transparency in neighboring markets, but few of the people who claim to push for it actually fully want it. The folks who do high frequency trading that front run the market use collocated servers which give them a competitive advantage by putting their trade in just before yours can execute. The Google algorithm is not open, and AdSense publishers needed an Italian newspaper to sue Google for Google to finally disclose AdSense payout terms. That only took about 7 years!

I can’t sit here and tell you that, as a small business owner, I don’t have a biased opinion on the matter.   I try to be as pragmatic as I can in most matters, and I completely agree with Aaron on this.  However, I’m one of those businesses that would be hurt if paid prioritization would be allowed and would be directed at me.  It smells of a double return, or double dip.

It has also become painfully obvious that I am not a journalist.  I can research as best as I can across the internet for information as can anyone and often find the right information.  But the constant change in positions and new information on the net neutrality debate kept getting the best of me.  The name that kept on coming up as the most up to date informed person was Karl Bode from dslireports.com.  I asked him if he could give me some insights, and he was gracious enough to respond.  We had a nice back and forth via email -

One of my fears is that e-commerce as well as bandwidth heavy content providers would be affected by paid prioritization, Karl said -

Yeah, as you probably know, it really began in 2005 with AT&T’s Ed Whitacre proclaiming he’d like to offload network expansion costs magically to some content companies whose ad income he envied (namely Google). The phone and cable companies have long been envious of this ad income, but given that their business to a large degree has become turf protection — above say even running a network — their first thought of course wasn’t cooperation with these new businesses — it was “how can we rig the game, artificially constrict the pipe, or somehow give our own content business efforts a tactical advantage?” Fortunately the Internet is fairly resilient and phone companies (after years of government pampering) aren’t particularly good at innovation or competing — so they haven’t had quite the luck on this front that some had feared (so far).

I mentioned that I’m not a proponent of government regulation, and actually prefer a more hands off approach.  Big corporations are incredible at innovation and entrepreneurship, but also have a history of screwing things up.  Meaningful regulation, in this case, might not be that bad.

Yes — I think this is where I get annoyed with modern discourse. The common “wisdom” these days is that all regulation is inherently evil and corporate self-regulation is the path to some kind of magic Utopia. I think that’s lazy thinking, protecting individuals from having to weigh each instance of regulatory action on its merits and supported by industry fauxcademics. I still believe you need a balanced, intelligent regulator on the beat that knows when real rules are needed — and when to stand back and let business work. Instead of reforming our regulatory structure so it works, we’ve got people who enter politics now under the entire platform that government can do nothing but fail, which of course helps ensure that this is precisely what happens.

So right now, we have revolving door lobbyist-regulators who do little more than nod dumbly at whatever giant corporation wields the most influence and carries the largest sacks of money, allowing them to run the asylum. Lip service is paid to consumers, innovation, and small business — but by and large this government’s actions are dictated by the wealthiest and largest companies. That doesn’t serve small business or consumers, and the end product is clearly illustrated by events like our financial implosion (dysfunction likely to be continued shortly courtesy of similarly lax higher education lending practices).

I think there’s an area where small business, entrepreneur and consumer interest overlap that nobody has really tapped into yet to initiate some useful change. But this has to be associated with a broader, cultural change in the way we think about business.

I think neutrality and privacy are two areas on the beat I cover that could be helped by meaningful consumer protections. Unfortunately, the rules I’m seeing crafted in both of these arenas is little more than showmanship or lip service. This seems to be true now regardless of which party is in office, so these issues rise above and beyond typical partisan bickering. Right or left, Progressive or Libertarian, nobody but AT&T benefits by a government where AT&T’s top lobbyist is writing the rules of the road — and that’s where we are right now. Instead of fixing this, the country seems to prefer yelling at one another on cable news.

There are probably much scarier issues with net neutrality that I just don’t know enough about to articulate, such as an over reaching FCC, but the case that there is not a lot of discourse going on, particularly with search and internet marketers confuses me.

I couldn’t agree more. You’ve got these issues potentially impacting millions of entrepreneurs as well as small, mid and large businesses. These folks don’t seem to realize that a mega-ISPs’ version of a perfect Internet inevitably involves everyone, on multiple levels, overpaying for service, and a gated-wall, old-boys-club approach to doing business online. Unfortunately, we’ve now got companies like Google, who used to be a very vocal champion on network neutrality, realizing its more profitable to shelve those principles in order to protect the billions in potential revenue their Android partnership with Verizon delivers. Go compare Google Senior Policy Director Richard Whitt’s speeches and policy filings from 2007 with those from late 2010.

To me, I’m not even sure anymore if the FCC is the right governing body to regulate the internet.  Over regulation is a big concern of mine as well.  I’ve read most of the proposals, and no-one has been able to clearly define to me what legal content is.  And, the priority access issue isn’t even addressed in the latest proposal.  I mean, they address fair use and access, but what if the ISP’s decide that what’s fair is that all e-commerce websites get charged for access to its customer base.

Many partisans get bent out of shape about what they perceive as the FCC over-reaching on some of these issues. However, if you actually dig into most of the things the FCC has done — be it the national broadband plan, merger approval conditions, Comcast’s no-fine wrist slap for throttling traffic or this recent neutrality rule proposal — you’ll almost always find there’s very little actual regulatory action or hard rules there. What the FCC over the last two decades spent most of their time doing is showmanship that gives the illusion of consumer protectionism, while under the surface they delivered carriers whatever they asked for (a bigger slice of USF funds, merger approval with no meaningful conditions, greater subsidies, fewer consumer protections).

For example, the national broadband plan makes  a big show about delivering 100 Mbps service to 100 million households by 2020 because that sounds really impressive. In reality, that’s something that will happen without the FCC lifting a finger given relatively inexpensive cable technology advancements such as DOCSIS 3.0. Modern regulatory consumer protection is largely theater. I think many individuals and groups would immediately lose their mind if a regulator in this country actually did its job instead of just putting on a dog and pony act.

That said, I’m really not some kind of pro-regulatory fanatic; I try to argue for regulatory balance.

I continue to argue that you might not need network neutrality rules if there was competition in the broadband space, acting as an organic form of punishment for carriers who try to engage in bad behavior – be that unfair prioritization, over-billing, or ridiculous added fees. But the FCC has shown repeatedly they’re not willing to tackle these issues for fear of upsetting say – AT&T, who not only has paid more in campaign contributions than any company since 1990 – but is now a cornerstone of our intelligence gathering operations. I’d actually prefer the FCC spend this time tackling the lack of competition in this sector. I also wouldn’t mind if the FTC did their job and put an end to some of the predatory pricing practices in this sector, such as companies that make up phony fees and bury them below  the line – giving them the ability to jack up the real price while leaving the advertised price the same.

Karl, where do we stand?  What do you see is a possibility?  How scary has this become?

It’s scary, but in context none of this is really new. I think the neutrality issue is only one symptom of a broader disease with very deep roots in this country. False lip service to free markets. Partisan bickering distracting people from real issues. Lack of competition. Useless, bribed regulators who last week worked for the giant corporation they’re now regulating. Protectionism dressed up as everything from patriotism to consumer advocacy.

Despite rhetoric, I do not believe regulators are going to act on the neutrality issue in any serious, meaningful way. I think you’ll see a lot of salesmanship from the FCC about this new neutrality plan being pro-consumer, but I’m absolutely certain that when released you’ll find their rules riddled with clever legal loopholes — and empty provisions requiring ISPs do things they were already doing voluntarily (ex: Comcast already telling people details about their network management technology). As a cherry on top none of this will even be enforceable, given the FCC’s tenuous authority as a result of their court loss to Comcast.

With any chance of serious government neutrality regulations dead in my opinion (and dead even before the recent elections), I think if small businesses and entrepreneurs want to keep an eye on this battle, they can focus on two things:

One, this country needs a serious effort to improve competition in the broadband space. Companies can’t get away with this kind of behavior if consumers are able to vote with their wallets. Contrary to carrier claims and public wisdom, we do not have a free, competitive market in the broadband space. We have a scattered amalgamation of uncompetitive monopolies and duopolies that all-but-own Congress, and literally write the regulation that governs their sector. If small businesses and content companies aren’t banding together to have themselves heard, they will ultimately be trampled underfoot by ridiculous policy that allows companies like Comcast/NBC, AT&T or Verizon to engage in any anti-competitive behavior executives can dream up.

Two, with the FCC debate “settled” in the mind of carriers, you’re going to see a renewed push to impose a low cap, high per gig overage pricing model, since the FCC’s rules expressly give the green light to such plans. Despite a lot of arguments to the contrary, these models are NOT In the best interest of the content industry or consumers. Flat rate broadband is perfectly profitable, encourages content consumption, and is easy for consumers to understand. The industry would like people to believe they’re interested in broadband pricing models that are simply about getting people to only pay for what they use. Were that the case, the vast majority of ISP customers, who use virtually no bandwidth, would downgrade service, wind up paying $5 a month and costing carrier billions.

The industry’s dream plans involve a flat rate fee (say $30) a cap (say 40GB per month), and then a steep per gig overage (usually ranging from $1-5 per gig). People need to ignore the nonsense they’ve read and understand this push isn’t about paying for what the consumer uses. It’s about artificially constricting the pipe, despite fixed and falling ISP costs and the continued decline in the cost of both bandwidth and network hardware. It’s about imposing high additional surcharges on households to protect carrier TV revenues from Internet video. It’s about exerting control and avoiding an ISP execs worst nightmare: life as a dumb pipe, where the only thing they’re useful for is running a network.

But what do you really think?

Not being a journalist and not a disinterested third party, my opinion on the matter is based solely on what I fear will happen to me and small businesses online.  I can only outline those things that I feel are detrimental from a personal point of view.  Having said that, I believe that my personal points of view are relevant to the conversation.  I’m in the soup, and I see the spoon coming down.

Relying on the FCC and federal regulations is problematic to say the least.  If the weak net neutrality provision sponsored by Chairman Genachowski are actually adopted, we are going to see loopholes and gray areas that will be the subject of litigation for years to come, up until it reaches the Supreme Court.   However, if net neutrality rules are written too strictly, and the FCC is actually given enough power to actually actively regulate the internet, the open nature of the internet, the actual neutrality we are hoping for, are doomed as well.  Then we will really see ungodly management costs imposed on the ISP’s and content providers to screen out pornography, gore and possibly even political culture.  If I have to employ sixteen million tricks to get around ISP filters just to get to /b, or Encyclopedia Dramatica, the internet as a communication channel is doomed.

Allowing the ISP’s to regulate themselves is like allowing a sex addicted pedophile to go to a child beauty pageant, not a good idea to say the least.  There are just too may temptations for the ISP’s to rig the game in their favor and their bottom line.  In the end, whether or not the ISP’s start charging for paid prioritization or not, as a small business owner, I have to be weary of any possible threats to my business.   With these issues being debated, and the FCC proposed plans that bear little resemblance to what we’ve been experiencing during our online lives, I really don’t think my fears are completely unfounded.  I’ve said that I do see both sides of this issue, and I want to express that I really do.  In a capitalist society, you don’t want to restrict any company from making money in a fair manner.  The question is whether paid prioritization is fair or not.   Maybe I’m not qualified to make that judgment, or since I’m a online business owner, I’m obviously biased.

I’m not anti-big corporate.  Like I said before, big corporations are beautiful things.  They innovate, they enterprise, they employ thousands if not millions of people.  I aspire to be a big corporation one day.  It’s one of those awesome American Dreams.   I have a cursory understanding of free market principles; I’m benefiting from them.  But I don’t think that the principles of a free market contend that a business entity does not have a fiduciary responsibility for its own growth.  Allowing the ISP’s the power to prioritize traffic based on paid benefits vs real necessity is not beneficial to the internet.  Free market depends on two things, the freedom of capitalism to create opportunity, and a market to exist.  (duh)  In this case, there is just not enough competition in the broadband space to justify the call for self regulation.  If there was plenty of competition in the ISP space, WE WOULD NOT BE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION.  Let’s put it this way, in my town, I can choose from Comcast and, let’s see, oh yeah Comcast.    I don’t have a choice as to what broadband provider I choose, and neither does 95% of America.  That’s right, 95% of the US is serviced by one, or just two broadband providers.  That is not competition and it does not allow for free market principles to regulate the situation.  Further, the ISP’s have such a hold in their regional markets, that it’s nearly impossible for a new provider to set up shop.

A lot of the opponents of net neutrality often point to Google and it’s monopoly on search as an example of why paid prioritization is necessary.  Oh Google, why do you cause so much angst?  I have a love hate relationship with Google.  I love to hate them, and and I hate to love them.  But the fact remains that Google is a destination site.  You don’t have to use it to travel the web, and you don’t have to use it to search the web.  There are other search engines out there, one that has about 30% of market share.  (Binghoo or Yabing)  Monopoly Google is not.

It’s amazing to me that in the US, not only are we having this conversation, but that an oligarchy is really being considered as a good thing.  What’s further driving me nuts is that we are considering two opposing bad things, FCC rules vs No FCC rules, when realistic, business savvy and  consumer helpful options are available.  See what happens when we let the crazies run the hospital.

Links – With Comments

Over that past few weeks, while I was researching this whole kerfuffle, I came across a lot of good information, and a lot of crazy poo poo.  You are more than welcome to look through what I’ve found, but keep your hands away from the trolls, they bite.

Internet Innovation Alliance – Run by Larry Irving.

Long Live The Web – Scientific American.

Institute for Policy Integrity Net Neutrality Issues

NetCompetition – a PR campaign set up by the ISP’s.

ARSTechnica Net Neutrality – These articles are MUST READ.  Great treatment of the debate on NN.

DSLIReports Net Neutrality – Karl helped me a lot researching this, and reading his posts on the matter are gut busters.

Public Knowledge Net Neutrality – Washington DC citizen activists with an incredible roster.

Is Net Neutrality an FCC Trojan Horse – Looking at the net neutrality in a different light, this article really enlightened me on whether the FCC should be the right tool for the job or not.

Electronic Retailing Association – with a cool video.  If online retailers are not fearing this yet, they should be.

Wired on Net Neutrality – I really liked these articles, and their comments.  Watch for trolls.

Stop The Cap- Everything.

LATimes – Filling In the Blanks on FCC’s Net Neutrality Proposal – Ahhhh.

22 Different Reasons Why the FCC Should Avoid Imposing Net Neutrality Regulations -  A compelling argument from the opposition, particularly on market principles.  Oh, and Mike Wendy works for the Progress and Freedom Foundation.  Let’s see who they work for.   Oh, that’s what a paid shill looks like!  Still, you have to pay attention to the argument.

Technology Liberation Frontowned by Adam Thierer, who happens to be the president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, and is well compensated by these guys.  In all honesty, paid schills are trying the represent the company that hired them, although on the sly.  I still need to know what they are saying so I can make sound judgment.

Scott Cleland: The Precursor Blog – says he’s an analyst, until I found out he is a hired PR man for AT&T.  Now I really know what a paid schill looks like.

McCurry: Upgrading the Creaky InternetMike McCurry is a partner at Public Strategies Washington Inc. where he provides strategic communications counsel. He is a co-chairman of Hands off the Internet, a coalition of telecommunication-related businesses.

Net Neutrality FAQ by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School.  This is a MUST READ.

DPSProject – Makes sense.

Why Google Needs To Stand Up for Themselves – Dave Davies is a friend of mine, and opposes net neutrality.  He’s the reason I listen to opposing views.

The Consumerist on Net Neutrality – Yes, this affects consumers.

Paul Misener of Amazon.com on net neutrality - Pretty much sums up why I have to side on pro net neutrality, but with realistic governance.

Stop Moaning About “NET NEUTRALITY” — Of Course ISPs Should Be Able To Charge Higher Rates For Premium Traffic – Henry Blodget, yeah, that Henry Blodget, completely misses on this, and shows no understanding what’s fair for small business.  *Note – read through the comments and you will see my entry into the Going Completely Apeshit Awards.  I didn’t even form a coherent statement.   But you will see Dan Frommer vomit inanities.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Net Neutrality – When Two Tribes Go To War -- Topsy.com - [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by aaron wall, rumblepup. rumblepup said: Blog Post Net Neutrality – When Two …

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>