FCC’s “Net Neutrality” Proposal Would Alter the Internet for the Worse by This Summer — We Can’t Let it Happen

image of a net neutrailty protester poster that says No Payola for the Internet, outside of the Google offices

Think back to the cesspool that MySpace had become in 2008.

Now imagine if MySpace — that MySpace — were the #1 website in the world.

But that’s ridiculous, you say. MySpace sucked, didn’t innovate, and had a terrible business plan. It had no chance of succeeding long-term, especially not against a smart upstart like Facebook!

Except that MySpace did have one thing going for it, at least for a short time, that no other social network had: gobs and gobs and freaking gobs of money.

And that mighty money might have been enough to keep MySpace in the social media catbird seat if the Internet back in 2005 had operated under the FCC’s proposed “new net neutrality” rules, which could be enacted as soon as this summer.

Yes, imagine a world in which your online life is still dominated by MySpace. Do you feel your retinas burning from the flashing gifs on the lime green page backgrounds? Ladies, are you done sorting through the hook-up requests in your message inbox?

This is why we must fight to maintain net neutrality — real net neutrality … not this potentially new bastard love child “net neutrality” born from the political fornication between massive telecom conglomerates and an FCC chairman whose previous experience (go figure) was to … wait for it … lobby on behalf of the industries he’s now in charge of regulating.

Yeah.

Here’s how MySpace could have ruled a “net-neutral” web

In 2005, News Corp bought MySpace, beating out Viacmon (which so angered Sumner Redstone that he fired CEO Tom Freston for not bidding enough to win the acquisition).

It’s easy to forget now, but this was a huge deal when it happened, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp had every incentive to put the full brunt of its deep influence and deeper pockets behind a push to make MySpace successful and grow it into the biggest, most powerful social network on the web — the perfect place for News Corp to promote all of its other media holdings.

But there was a big problem for Murdoch, News Corp, and MySpace: they could advertise MySpace all they wanted, but they couldn’t pay for MySpace to be in an “Internet fast lane” that would have given it an unfair advantage over competitors no matter how much MySpace sat there and continued to get stale and, you know, suck to actually use.

Instead, MySpace had to actually compete. On the merits of its platform. And we know how that turned out.

Yet, if these proposed new rules had been in effect then, Murdoch could have paid Comcast and AT&T and the other big ISPs money to ensure that MySpace traffic was faster than traffic for other websites. You don’t need me to tell you how important page load and download speeds are. Again, it would have given MySpace a huge competitive advantage, even if it was gained solely by Murdoch emptying his couch cushions at Comcast and its brethren’s doorstep.

Would this alone have been enough to create a today in which MySpace still ruled the social media roost? There is no way to know for sure. But it’s undeniable that it would have been much harder for even a site like Facebook, still in its infancy at the time, to compete … simply because they joined the race late and didn’t yet have a huge financial backing.

This is, of course, the position of power that Facebook sits in now. And while Facebook is so uber-powerful and rich today that it can simply acquire upstarts like Instagram and WhatsApp who threaten it in any way (or simply to buy the user bases), at least we have an open web where upstarts like Instagram and WhatsApp are possible.

Could these services have developed in a “net neutral” world where ISPs require additional tolls if you want a real chance at delivering content to their users? Maybe. Depending on their initial financial backing. But the barrier to innovation would go way, way up … and the likelihood of disruption would go way, way down.

So, basically, these essential elements that make the Internet so special would erode.

And in the long-term, everyone loses — except the big ISPs, who make a hell of a lot more money. The established power players who surely wouldn’t mind thwarting competition, even at a higher cost. (And the politicians whose pockets they line.)

Great.

Here is what I’ve read on the subject so you can read it too

I am no expert on this subject. I just did some reading on it this morning and wanted to pass along what I learned and start a dialogue. (Especially if anyone wants to jump in here and add more nuance and context to the discussion.)

I recommend you peruse the following links at your earliest convenience, and then follow the advice of Tim Wu — who wrote “Goodbye, Net Neutrality; Hello, Net Discrimination” for the New Yorker blog — and send an email to tom.wheeler@fcc.gov with your thoughts. That’s Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC I referred to above, the guy previously served as president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).

From a May 02, 2013 article by Time about Wheeler’s appointment to the FCC chairmanship:

Referring to Wheeler’s lengthy experience as a lobbyist for two of the industries he will now be regulating, Obama joked that his nominee is “like the Jim Brown or Bo Jackson of telecom.

Nice … Obama’s got jokes.

Too bad this quote by Candidate Obama in 2007 looks like the real joke (via Wu’s New Yorker piece):

“The answer is yes,” Obama replied. “I am a strong supporter of net neutrality.” Explaining, he said, “What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites…. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

Also read this, “The Case Against ISP Tolls,” posted on the Netflix blog, which provides a simple explanation of a) why Comcast is such a bastard, and b) why ISPs will be able to wield so much power if net discrimination becomes a reality.

In sum, Comcast is not charging Netflix for transit service. It is charging Netflix for access to its subscribers. Comcast also charges its subscribers for access to Internet content providers like Netflix. In this way, Comcast is double dipping by getting both its subscribers and Internet content providers to pay for access to each other.

And read this, posted by Ryan Singel (former editor of Wired’s Threat Level blog) at Medium: “How The FCC Plans to Save the Internet by Destroying It: An Explainer”

The FCC will kill the internet in order to save it.

Note: This is a long post so here’s the TL;DR.

1) The FCC has a very simple way to create simple, fair and enforceable rules to protect innovation, free speech and commerce. It lacks the courage and (perhaps) political capital to re-grant itself this power.
2) Lacking this power, the FCC is relying on a small loophole given to it by the courts.
3) That loophole requires the FCC to allow Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to create slow and fast lanes.
4) The loophole also allows ISPs have to strike individual deals with sites and apps. The rates for non-slow service can vary hugely. Those services that don’t pay will get relegated to the slow lane.
5) The FCC wants to call this “net neutrality.” It’s nothing of the sort and the proposal needs to be killed. It’s a bargain that will kill innovation on the net.
6) Even if you are a progressive who loves Obama, the best thing you can do is help kill this proposal and show there is political will for real internet protection.

It is a long post. And the TL;DR sums it up well, but you should still click over and read the whole thing. The full context is important.

Also read this piece from The Guardian by Dan Gillmor, entitled “The FCC is about to axe-murder net neutrality. Don’t get mad – get even.”

It includes this advice for how to let your voice be heard and try to make a difference:

Don’t stop with Obama, of course. He’s made it absolutely clear which side he’s on (hint: not ours). We all need to ask our legislators – in your communities, in your states, in Washington – whether they want to discourage innovation and free speech by giving control of this essential public utility to a tiny oligopoly. Then:

  • At the local level, push for community broadband networks, owned and operated by the public. (Waiting for Google Fiber? You might as well wait to win the lottery. Google is not your daddy, or your savior.) The community broadband success stories are already dramatic …
  • … so dramatic that the telecom cartel has frantically worked to get state legislatures to prevent them from existing in the first place. Tell your state legislators that this is an unacceptable intrusion on your community’s right to govern itself.
  • Finally, tell your member of the US House of Representatives and your US senators that they have a job to do – to ensure the future of innovation and free speech in a digital world. In particular, tell them that internet access is a public utility and should be treated as such.

And finally, a post from The Verge with a great headline: The Internet is Fucked (but we can fix it)

What do you think?

Very curious to get your thoughts on this.

Ultimately, it seems pretty simple: the big ISPs don’t want to be treated like utilities so they can make a lot more money … but regulating them like utilities may be the only way to ensure an open, fair Internet for everyone.

Big corporate interests on one side … everyone else and the future of one of the most groundbreaking and influential technologies in world history on the other.

This is a fight worth fighting.

*****
Update: Here are additional comments from Tim Wu (who actually coined the phrase “net neutrality”) about the proposed rules from the FCC. He brings up a great point I ignored above: broadband prices for you, me, and other consumers would undoubtedly go up as a result.

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Steve Rhodes

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