After Dan Nester’s book reading at Stuyvesant Plaza near Albany a couple nights ago, I was talking to Michael Huber, the Times Union blogs’ cat herder, complaining about the latest threat to net neutrality. This nice lady, standing in line to get
PlotnickNester to sign her copy of his book, had the most puzzled look, and asked, “But aren’t there more important things to worry about?” I sighed and handed her the current Metroland with intellectual property lawyer/drummer Paul Rapp’s article about the issue.
I had been arguing this issue on the grounds of basic fairness of freedom and speech. After reading the FCC’s own statement on the value of an open Internet -“This design has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to easily launch innovative applications and services, revolutionizing the way people communicate, participate, create, and do business – think of email, blogs, streaming video, and online shopping” – I realize that was too limiting an observation.
One might suggest that fighting cancer (the disease the main character in Nester’s book has) or climate change or war are more significant than net neutrality; after all, they are issues of life and death. But Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said recently:
We don’t know who is going to have the next big idea in this country, but we’re pretty sure they’re going to need to get online to do it. Reports that the FCC may gut net neutrality are disturbing, and would be just one more way the playing field is tilted for the rich and powerful who have already made it. Our regulators already have all the tools they need to protect a free and open Internet—where a handful of companies cannot block or filter or charge access fees for what we do online. They should stand up and use them.
Maybe those innovators will create cleaner technologies, or develop devices to absorb some of the pollutants, or invent a better cancer detector. Just maybe those creative folks will make our lives better and safer and smarter.
Is net neutrality less important than other issues? Maybe. But I cannot do anything about cancer or climate change or war in the next ten days, and beyond. The FCC is scheduled to vote on a notice of proposed rule making on May 15, addressing the new net neutrality plan after an appeals court struck down FCC’s net neutrality rule. “The commission will release a set of proposals and asks for public comment on them. It’s the first step in a long process for the FCC to pass new regulations.
And while defenders of the FCC on this topic point out that the new rules haven’t even been announced yet, it hasn’t stopped them from allowing Netflix to bring its concerns about Internet neutrality directly to the FCC. For their own good reasons, they also support the open Internet.
There’s reason to fear a bad outcome: too often, inefficiency is monetarily rewarded.
Broadband providers insist they need to do things like prioritize some traffic in order to deal with network congestion, but that’s bogus. It’s only the non-technical management who makes those claims. Ask the technology guys, and they will quickly say that basic upgrades can easily accommodate all traffic. But the broadband providers are now like the airlines. They could very easily offer a better overall service, but they’re quickly recognizing that by offering a crappy service, they can charge more to get a select few to pay up for a “fast lane” approach. So the incentives are totally screwed up. There’s little incentive for airlines to improve the boarding process, so long as having such a crappy process leads people to pay extra fees to avoid the crappy process.
Those who can pay for the “deluxe” Internet, will. But everyone else, the common citizen, small businesses, nonprofits, libraries, will get a lesser service, likely at a higher price. “Because of the controversy over the proposal, the FCC has already begun taking email comments at firstname.lastname@example.org”. Or direct a tweet to the chair of the commission: @TomWheelerFCC. I shall do so, and I invite you to do likewise.
After the meeting, there will be a “public comment” period of 30 to perhaps 45 days before they start finalizing any new rules. Speak up. You have a chance to tell both Obama and Wheeler what you think, so that the will of the people, not the power of money and predatory interests, is heard.
Here’s a sample letter to avoid having the Internet from looking like the other media oligarchies.
And if all this verbiage has confused you, watch this three-minute video.