I wrote this article back in September of 2009 in response to the FCC Chairman’s first articulation of the Six Principles of Net Neutrality. The US Appeals Court ruling against the FCC (and in favor of Comcast) earlier this week has spurred a fair amount of discussion. The Legislature will have to figure out if the FCC has the authority to enforce the rules it is mandated by Congress to create. That is really what the lawsuit was about. However, the spirit of the Net Neutrality, which these six principles vaguely describe, is still a topic that needs serious discussion. How should we think about it? Here’s what I thought back then and what I still believe today:
Net Neutrality — Do Six Principles Make Sense?
On Monday, September 21, 2009, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined the concrete actions he believes the Commission must take to preserve the free and open Internet. He said, “The Internet is an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, investment, and opportunity. It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America. It is vital that we safeguard the free and open Internet.”
The commissioner presented six principles that we might use to craft these new rules:
1) Consumers are entitled to access whatever lawful internet content they want.
2) Consumers are entitled to run whatever applications and services they want, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
3) Consumers can connect to networks whatever legal devices they want, so long as they do not harm them.
4) Consumers are entitled to competition between networks, applications, services and content providers.
5) Service providers are not allowed to discriminate between applications, services and content outside of reasonable network management.
6) Service providers must be transparent about the network management practices they use.
Now, as you can imagine, there are some people and organizations that think that these principles are good for America and there are some people and organizations who think they are bad for America. You be the judge. Although there has been a significant amount of chatter about Net Neutrality in the past, now we have some real details to argue about, but let’s not. Three questions immediately come to mind:
1) How will you punish violators of Net Neutrality rules? I’d like to know.
2) What is reasonable network management? I’d really like to know.
3) Is publishing terms of service satisfactory compliance with transparent network management practices and do ISP’s have the right to loophole us into hell by telling us that’s what they’re going to do? I’d really, really like to know!
Now, I said I don’t want to argue, so let’s not. You may have other issues with the six principles, I do too. But these three questions probably deserve some attention early in the process.
What I am wondering about is why our future is in the hands of private companies? (I know they’re all publicly traded, but they are non-governmental entities.) Net Neutrality rules will attempt to regulate private industry to the common good. I’m not sure this is a good plan.
Think about it this way, if a major company has a bad quarter or is having a down year and not delivering appropriate shareholder value, and it decides not to invest in infrastructure, who do we call? Here’s an imperfect metaphor as an example: Imagine if the major Interstate highways were allowed to fall into disrepair because AT&T had a bad quarter. What if certain direct regional routes were closed because private owners of the roads were not in a financial position to keep them open? Net Neutrality is trying to solve a problem we should not be allowing ourselves to have.
As I have often said, the speed of information is directly equated to economic success. This has been true throughout recorded history. If you know something before your competitor does, you are almost always going to be able to profit from the knowledge.
So, how is it possible that we are allowing Al Gore’s Information Super-Highway to be owned and operated by private industry? It really does not make sense. This will ultimately become a national security issue. In the information age, currencies include: money, information and the military. All of them require unfettered access to the highest-speed Internet we can possibly achieve. So, how can we let individuals or corporations with their own agendas control our access? I know it is the way it is now, but should it be?
I appreciate that the FCC is trying to deal with the world as it is, as opposed to remaking it. I also appreciate that the existing system was not designed … it evolved. However, the principles of Net Neutrality and the practice of Net Neutrality will, by definition, not ever be the same. This is probably a good topic for discussion.
I also think it is hard to argue the pros and cons of Net Neutrality without a firm grasp on the issues being discussed with respect to the National Broadband Plan. It seems to me that these two initiatives overlap in so many places that one cannot be discussed without the other.
The good news is that my thoughts and opinions are just that. You get to make your voice heard too. Please, please visit fcc.gov and become part of this process. The FCC is asking the industry for guidance. Get involved, we need you!