Why Is The Internet In Danger And How Can I Help Keep It From Turning To Crap?

The Federal Communications Commission has essentially thrown its hands in the air and is asking for public input for how to solve the open internet/net neutrality/Internet fast lane debate.

The unfortunate thing is how little people know and understand about this very important issue for how the Internet should work.

RELATED: Text of FCC’S proposed rules

First a little background.

This latest round of debate got started early this year when the Supreme Court struck down the FCC’s ‘net neutrality’ rules, saying the commission lacked the authority to enforce the 2010 regulations.

Those rules were put in place to make sure Internet Service Providers couldn’t prioritize certain traffic over other traffic, or simply block others. An example of this would be if Comcast, who now owns NBC and has its own TV services, would decide to downgrade service going toward Netflix or other Internet video in favor of its own offerings. In this instance, they’d be essentially kneecapping a competitor by taking advantage of the fact they provide both Internet and video services.

The Supreme Court did leave an avenue open where the FCC could classify ISPs as common carriers. Essentially that would mean treating networks the same way as phone lines: While a company may lay its wire, the network itself is open to competition because it uses public rights of way.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to strike a balance between solutions by introducing the idea of an Internet fast lane—ISPs would be allowed to charge companies for better access to their networks. One example would be Netflix paying Comcast for better access to its network, but that’s totally never going to happen, right?

In addition, he proposed that ISPs “shall not engage in commercially unreasonable practices. Reasonable network management shall not constitute a commercially unreasonable practice.

This all sounds good on paper, but there are three big flaws:

Kiss innovation goodbye. OK, maybe that’s putting it a little strong, but in addition to what it already takes to get the next YouTube or Netflix off the ground in terms of manpower, ideas and red tape, any Internet video startup would have to also pay the ISP for better access. Otherwise, their customers wouldn’t be able to get the level of service needed for their product to get off the ground.

Did I say ISP? I meant plural ISPs. If one company is going to charge for prioritized access, you better believe there will be others wanting companies to pony up too.

Just the Supreme Court throwing out the FCC net neutrality rules and talk of an Internet fast lane is already hurting the start up market, as venture capital firms are already shying away from video or otherwise data intensive companies.

What is a “commercially unreasonable” practice? In theory any maneuver a company makes could be called commercially reasonable if they are publicly traded. After all, if it’s a move to increase their profits that doesn’t serve customers well, they can still make the argument that it benefits shareholders, who they are legally obligated to help.

No blocking doesn’t require network upgrades. One of the big issues that’s arisen with Netflix on different ISPs has been if the companies’ infrastructure can handle it. All it takes is a switch here and a hub there not being updated, and suddenly there’s just not enough bandwidth to meet demand. If companies are making money on their prioritized network, there’s no financial incentive for them to improve the “slower lane.”

The good news is people have a chance to get involved and have their voices heard.

The FCC is accepting public comment on the issue through September by emailing openinternet@fcc.gov. Thursday’s 3-2 vote on the guidelines was simply a step to open public commenting. If the FCC doesn’t hear a loud enough outcry against these proposed rules, they will become the law of the land and won’t be overturned without a protracted legal fight.

The best solution in my opinion is going back to what the Supreme Court hinted at: Extending common carrier rules to ISPs.

The biggest issue the Internet has right now aside from net neutrality is a severe lack of competition. Most markets have two options: A cable provider that is really fast and an DSL provider that hasn’t upgraded much in the past decade. It used to be that ISPs were required to open their pipes and allow access to local competitors. Over the course of the last decade, however, those provisions have been neutered to the point that competition no longer exists.

If the lines are opened up to competition, most of the issues that have arisen will be resolved. Prices will drop, data caps will be harder to enact, and pay-to-play double-dipping deals won’t happen.

It’s not hyperbole to say the future of the Internet rides on these proceedings. If ISPs are allowed to collect twice from companies connecting to their network—once to connect to the network and once to connect to customers—it’s going to undo what’s made the Internet the powerful tool it is today.

 

Text Of FCC’s Proposed Rules: ‘Protecting And Promoting The Open Internet’

The FCC has a long document about its efforts to change the way Internet providers can handle traffic. I’ll have a post later about how these rules will affect users, but for now I’ve chopped out the most relevant portion of it and placed it here in a more reader-friendly format.

Proposed Rules

Part 8 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:
PART 8 – PROTECTING AND PROMOTING THE OPEN INTERNET

Sec.
8.1
Purpose.
8.3
Transparency.
8.5
No Blocking.
8.7
No Commercially Unreasonable Practices.
8.9
Other Laws and Considerations.
8.11 Definitions.
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. §§ 151, 152, 154(i)-(j), 303, 316, 1302

§ 8.1
Purpose.

The purpose of this Part is to protect and promote the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission, and thereby to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability and remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

§ 8.3
Transparency.

(a) A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose
accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services, in a manner tailored

(i) for end users to make informed choices regarding use of such services,
(ii) for edge providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings, and
(iii) for the Commission and members of the public to understand how such person complies with the requirements described in sections 8.5 and 8.7 of this chapter.

(b) In making the disclosures required by this section, a person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall include meaningful information regarding the source, timing, speed, packet loss, and duration of congestion.

(c) In making the disclosures required by this section, a person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose in a timely manner to end users, edge providers, and the Commission when they make changes to their network practices as well as any instances of blocking, throttling, and pay-for-priority arrangements, or the parameters of default or “best effort” service as distinct from any priority service.

§ 8.5
No Blocking.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.

§ 8.7
No Commercially Unreasonable Practices.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not engage in commercially unreasonable practices. Reasonable network management shall not constitute a commercially unreasonable practice.

§ 8.9
Other Laws and Considerations.

Nothing in this part supersedes any obligation or authorization a provider of broadband Internet access service may have to address the needs of emergency communications or law enforcement, public safety, or national security authorities, consistent with or as permitted by applicable law, or limits the provider’s ability to do so.

Nothing in this part prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.

§ 8.11
Definitions.

(a) Block. The failure of a broadband Internet access service to provide an edge provider with a
minimum level of access that is sufficiently robust, fast, and dynamic for effective use by end users and edge providers.

(b) Broadband Internet access service. A mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service. This term also encompasses any service that the Commission finds to be providing a functional equivalent of the service described in the previous sentence, or that is used to evade the protections set forth in this Part.

(c) Edge Provider. Any individual or entity that provides any content, application, or service over the Internet, and any individual or entity that provides a device used for accessing any content, application, or service over the Internet.

(d) End User. Any individual or entity that uses a broadband Internet access service.

(e) Fixed broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily at fixed endpoints using stationary equipment. Fixed broadband Internet access service includes fixed wireless services (including fixed unlicensed wireless services), and fixed satellite services.

(f) Mobile broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily using mobile stations.

(g) Reasonable network management. A network management practice is reasonable if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.