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An explanation of Net Neutrality

Posted: 27 February 2015 at 06:55:44

Just this week, the Federal Communications Commission determined they had the authority, under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 (which was created to regulate the telephone system), to regulate the Internet service provider industry. This is what has been called "Net Neutrality."

I have long supported one particular aspect of President Obama's original proposal for Net Neutrality which was Title II reclassification of Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, etc. (Essentially, the companies that control the physical media going into people's homes or places of business.) One provision of Title II is called "last-mile unbundling" and it means that the company that provides the service you're using over a wire that comes into your home or place of business doesn't necessarily need to be the same company that manages the physical wire.

This would mean if you lived in an area where you can only get copper, coax or fiberoptic connectivity from one company, you can still opt to have your upstream Internet traffic handled by any of several companies.

This would set up something much like Utopia municipal fiber that is available in several communities in Utah where you get fiber from Utopia and then you choose your Internet, voice, and TV providers that work over the fiber connection.

This would have solved all problems. Customers of companies like Comcast could flee them en masse, choose ISPs that actually give a flying crap about their customers and do a reasonable job being an ISP. End users would have choice. Competition would drive prices down and quality up. It's a win-win for everyone (except the greedy fat cats in the executive offices at Comcast, Verizon, Time-Warner, and CenturyLink.)

Unfortunately, that's not what we're getting. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, has stated "there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling."

That's unfortunate because the last-mile unbundling, by itself, would solve all the problems the activist organizations clamoring for Net Neutrality are complaining about!

We actually don't know exactly what "Net Neutrality" actually means yet. The FCC hasn't released the terms of the new governance they claim to have over Internet providers, which is a whole other problem in itself. While organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, Netflix, my own employer Bluehost and others are cheering the announcement as a big achievement, I'll withhold my judgement until we actually know what it means.

What I have gleaned from what the FCC commissioners and chairman have said is that the FCC, in treating telecom companies under Title II, will be enacting a boatload of regulations on how they can and can not conduct their business. We know one thing specifically: that they won't be able to prioritize one kind of traffic (anything else) over another (Netflix).

Many will think this is a good thing, but those of us who have worked on networks know that prioritization is a legitimate function of any network operator and using Quality of Service (QoS) protocols to manage traffic in a prioritized manner may now be illegal, regulated, and/or heavily monitored by the government. I don't envy any government that has to operate under those conditions.

As a subscriber of Austrian economics and a "Tea Party Republican," I see the FCC's move as encumbering an industry with a boatload of new regulation they must comply with. Compliance comes with a cost and the industry players will merely pass that cost along to their customers.

People scoffed when Sen. Ted Cruz described Net Neutrality as "Obamacare for the Internet," but when you consider the big picture: Net Neutrality is possibly adding a set of cumbersome big government regulation and made up "rights" to an industry already riddled with problems including higher-than-reasonable costs and less than stellar customer service...

Hey, some would argue that's exactly what the Obama administration did with Obamacare! And what's happened? Sure, more people now have access to said industry, but the costs certainly haven't come down and the improvement to service... yeah, not so much.

So, mostly, I see this as a lose-lose.

"The ten most dangerous words in the English language are 'Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'" --Ronald Reagan