By Doug Logan
Net Neutrality is aflame again as the FCC voted today to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations. This decision was heavily opposed from such internet giants as Facebook, Google and Twitter, causing the internet to be chock full of statements opposing the FCC’s decision.
However, what really is Net Neutrality, and is this reversal of the decision really the “End of the Internet” as many of these sites are claiming?
In the end, the answer to that question will depend on whether you believe government regulation of the internet is the best solution to keeping it open, innovating and competitive — as was the philosophy behind the Obama regulations — or whether you believe that private enterprise responding to market demands is best situated for accomplishing that — as had been the case the previous 20 years.
It’s worth understanding both sides to really grasp what is at stake.
At its core net neutrality means that your Internet Service Provider (ISP), should not be able to filter or give preference to any website or content on the internet and should remain “neutral” to whatever is passing over its network. This means that regardless of the ISP’s business, political or religious leanings; the content to a conservative news site, a porn site, the ISP’s own services, or a competitor’s services; all content should be treated exactly the same.
This idealistic viewpoint is not one that most people disagree with. Just like most people agree with the idealist comment that we should “Save the environment”, most people believe that the internet should remain as neutral as possible. The disagreements center around how this should best be accomplished, and what should be required to make it happen. Essentially, these debates center around a couple of big questions.
- Who do you trust more, the government or private telecommunication companies?
- Who do you think should have to pay for faster access to a service; the consumer of the service or everyone who has internet access?
Trust of the government vs. private telecommunications companies
On February 26, 2015, under the leadership of Obama-appointed Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC reclassified broadband Internet providers as “Common Carriers” as designated in Title II of the Telecommunications Act as amended in 1996 and stated they would be selectively applying the Title II provisions to allow the promotion of an “Open Internet”. This Title outlines everything from the required licensing for broadcasting, to provisions that require a telecommunications provider to provider access to their networks to competing entities in order to lower the barrier of entry and encourage innovation. The administration never stated which provisions of Title II would be enforced, and which would not be enforced; which leads to a lot of questions. Google is hopeful that some provisions could increase broadband availability, but other areas such as licensing, if applied; could very much stifle its growth.
Both Wheeler’s majority statement at the time, and dissenting opinion of Commissioner Ajit Pai, and now Chairman, support the concept of an Open Internet. The difference in their opinion’s is how they think an Open Internet is achieved.
Chairman Wheeler believes that an Open Internet must be obtained by government regulation, and states that ISP’s cannot be trusted:
“We know from the history of previous networks that both human nature and economic opportunism act to encourage network owners to become gatekeepers that prioritize their interests above the interests of their users.”
Ajit Pai on the other hand believes that the private sector has been doing a good job from 1995 to 2015 of providing an Open Internet, and it is in fact government regulation that will prevent this from continuing to happen:
“For twenty years, there’s been a bipartisan consensus in favor of a free and Open Internet… today, the FCC abandons those policies. It reclassifies broadband Internet access service as a Title II telecommunications service. It seizes unilateral authority to regulate Internet conduct, to direct where Internet service providers put their investments, and to determine what service plans will be available to the American public. This is … a radical departure from the bipartisan, market-oriented policies that have served us so well for the last two decades. “
If you follow former Wheeler’s train of thought, the private sector is always going to make decisions in its own self-interest and we need a larger government control of the internet to protect the consumer and make sure everything is dealt with fairly. The best way to support an Open Internet is to have the FCC regulate it.
If you follow current Pai’s train of thought, the government consistently stifles innovation and growth with regulation, and this should never be applied to the internet. The best way to support an Open Internet is to require the private sector to disclose anything they might do to prioritize, or inhibit traffic to individuals; and let the consumer enforce an open internet with where they buy internet access.
There is a lot of data that can go into supporting either of these viewpoints, but this all boils down to; which do you trust more to do the right thing, the government or the private sector?
Who should pay for faster access to a service?
Stating that the internet should be neutral to the content it is delivering sounds great in concept, but depending on how you interpret what this can create some pretty large technical hurdles to overcome. Internet speeds can be impacted by how far away the server is from your physical location, how many connections to the internet backbone your ISP has, where those connections are, how big those connections are, the amount of traffic flowing on each one of these connections, which traffic is prioritized, and even which traffic is completely blocked. These all come at a cost, and there is a big question on who should pay for this cost, and what is actually required for a “neutral internet”.
Pro-FCC Regulated Net Neutrality advocates state that there should not be “Fast Lanes” or “Pay-To-Play” allowed by ISP’s. Essentially what they’re saying is that if Netflix wants its content to reach Comcast subscribers faster, Netflix shouldn’t be able to pay Comcast for their content to arrive faster than competitor Amazon Video; and likewise, Comcast can’t require Netflix to pay in order for their content to be delivered to their users. Doing so, supporters state, would be anti-competitive since it would give one provider an upper hand over another provider.
Anti-Regulation individuals would argue, however, that it costs Comcast quite a bit of money to expand their network in order to handle the bandwidth-intensive requirements of Netflix or any video provider, and so who should bear the cost of that? If they charge Netflix reasonable fees for Netflix to put a server on the Comcast network, Comcast subscribers can get Netflix much faster and at a lower cost to Comcast and only Netflix users will pay for it via possible increases in Netflix dues. If they expand their network so that every single plan they have can benefit, they have to increase the prices for every single subscriber across the board to cover the costs, both video and non-video users; or they need to start filtering plans so that only higher costs plans get the higher speeds; delivering the Netflix speeds to only a certain class of user. Requiring Netflix to pay would be considered “Fast Lanes”, and filtering traffic to video on some plans would definitely be considered not net neutral.
As a result, based on these viewpoints; supporters of FCC regulated Net Neutrality tend to support the concept that every single end-user of a service should help pay the costs of everyone having a neutral internet, regardless of how much of the internet an individual actually consumes.
Anti-FCC regulation individuals on the other hand tend to believe that those individuals who consume a service should have to pay the costs associated with delivering that service. This either means that the service, like Netflix, may need to pay for their content to be put in a place where it can be delivered faster; or there may need to be special plans that allows access to certain content while other plans do not. This creates the most fair and Open Internet as costs are more user-based, and some are not subsidizing others.
Net neutrality conclusion
The American public generally agrees that we should have an open, and neutral internet, where no provider should be able to filter or block content in order to promote their own financial gain or ideological viewpoints.
The question is: Should government regulate the internet to maintain innovation, growth or creativity? Should the cost of this free and Open Internet be distributed among all who use it? Would failure to have the government step in now result in an internet that ISPs take advantage of for their own financial gain at the expense of competition and freedom of ideas?
Or would government’s involvement stifle innovation and limit competition, and risk someday the government filtering internet content like it now does TV content. Is the best way to promote a free and Open Internet to require ISP’s to disclose how they filter/prioritize their networks; and let the demands of the consumer force the internet to remain open? This means that the consumers of the services will be the direct individuals responsible for the costs of obtaining those services.
Doug Logan is a long-time cyber security expert and Founder and CEO of Cyber Ninjas. He is also the Chief Technologist at U.S. Cyber Challenge.
Get more stuff like this
Don’t miss a single act of Revolutionary Truth... delivered to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.