Thursday, May 15, 2014

Net neutrality is dead

Net neutrality is one of those things that nerds talk about at parties, but it never quite seems to cross over into mainstream discussion. After today, I'm guessing it probably should.

Long story short - and I'll apologize for keeping it short, because I'm supposed to be working on it right now - net neutrality means that when you go online, everyone can potentially have equal access to the same bandwidth. If I merge onto the highway, I can use any lane I want, and drive at any speed as long as I'm obeying the rules of the road.

In a ruling that just came down a few minutes ago, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission - better known as the FCC - opened the door to allowing companies, say Netflix, to pay carriers more for the privilege of higher-speed, privileged access. In other words, that big left lane over there? You're driving in it only if your car has a special sticker. That you paid a lot of money for. Don't want to pay the piper for faster service? Or can't afford it? Tough. Over to the slow lane for you, buddy.

The CEOs of some of the largest ISPs in the U.S., including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, signed a letter to the FCC that supported the creation of a so-called slow lane. Their reasoning? The government shouldn't mess with their business, and doing so would make it difficult for them to continue to innovate. As the major carriers continue a wave of unprecedented consolidation, the combination of market-dominant monopolies and the freedom to charge more to bigger fish who can afford it means their shareholders are happy campers today.

Web services companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix have a decidedly different perspective. They call the FCC's plan a “grave threat” to an open Internet because it would allow ISPs to discriminate against content providers - and it would add cost and complexity to their business models, which are all based on an open and free Internet. Not surprisingly, content owners, artists and other creatives have protested the move, as well.

Nothing changes today, of course. It's just one step in a very long process. Next up, a comment-and-review period, then a second vote, then a final FCC ruling later this year.

All of this is something of a slippery slope, with enough nuances to keep us all up at night for months. But the bottom line is the Internet as we once knew it will be changed irrevocably because of today's ruling. And it's only a matter of time before the U.S. policy decision influences policies in Canada and other nations.

More on this as it develops, but I wanted to at least get it out there for starters.

Your turn: Thoughts?


Tabor said...

Depresses the hell out of me and I have signed several petitions against for whatever that is worth!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

My thought is that this was baked into the cake when a former telecom CEO and lobbyist, Tom Wheeler, was made head of the FCC.

Yet the right-wing in this country likes to claim that the guy who appointed him (and so many like him) is a Marxist.

mikey said...

Actually, the more I think about it, the more sanguine I become. I think they waited too long to make their play. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix et al have the resources to implement alternative solutions, and as wireless protocols get faster there is less entrenched advantage in owning the fiber in the ground.

So satellites, airships, long endurance unmanned solar-powered aircraft - there are lots of ways to bypass the ISP's fiber.

And if it starts to create a messed up balkanized internet, the FCC can always just invoke common carrier status and return order to the shire.

The ISPs want the money, but they also know they're up against some heavyweights in this fight, so they'll try to calibrate their demands, providing additional time to make their only real advantage, fiber in the ground, less of an advantage every day.