Shrouding the Net Neutrality Debate in a Cloud of Politics

The FCC finally moved the network neutrality debate forward Thursday, voting to begin developing open Internet regulations. The topic has become quite interesting over the past week, as strong-willed proponents and opponents of Internet Network Neutralitynet neutrality turn up campaigns to influence law makers prior to voting on any net neutrality principles that may become law.

The debate is actually quite simple – should the government regulate, or not regulate the Internet? That discussion revolves around the six principles of network neutrality proposed by the FCC:

Under the draft proposed rules, subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service:

  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user’s choice over the Internet;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user’s choice;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from connecting to and using on its network the user’s choice of lawful devices that do not harm the network;
  • would not be allowed to deprive any of its users of the user’s entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers, and content providers;
  • would be required to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
  • would be required to disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking.

The Pro Argument of Network Neutrality

Oddly, former adversaries Google and Verizon issued a joint statement regarding their position on net neutrality. Both companies have significantly changed their positions since the debate originally hit the headlines in 2005, with a highlight of the joint statement:

“For starters we both think it’s essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform — where people can access any content (so long as it’s legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice.
Transformative is an over-used word, especially in the tech sector. But the Internet has genuinely changed the world. Consumers of all stripes can decide which services they want to use and the companies they trust to provide them…

…This kind of “innovation without permission” has changed the way we do business forever, fueling unprecedented collaboration, creativity and opportunity. And because America has been at the forefront of most of these changes, we have disproportionately benefited in terms of economic growth and job creation.”

This oddly puts Verizon in opposition to the other main anti-net neutrality supporters such as AT&T, Cox Communications, and Comcast.

Certainly companies like Google have come a very long way from 2005 when the debate was clearly one of who pays whom, for what kind of service, and who has the right to determine the quality of services over basic Internet infrastructure. In the early days content providers wanted a level of government regulation to ensure the Internet transmission and network providers did not have control over the end user experience, and objected to statements by AT&T’s then CEO Ed Whitacre who stated in an interview with Business Week:

“How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This set off both a furor among Internet users, as well as a new movement to ensure the “telcos” did not ever again have an opportunity to restrict or limit free access to their networks. Arguments ranged from identifying the US taxpayer and AT&T customers paying for basic infrastructure our of Universal Services Fund/USF (meaning the US taxpayer is actually the owner of much of AT&T’s USF-funded infrastructure), to AT&T subscribers being forced to use AT&T preferred content providers based on their control of the network.

There are many organizations representing both users and Internet industry companies supporting the idea of network neutrality. The current law in the house is sponsored by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) who introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 3458) in July 2009.

The Con Argument

Not surprisingly, the Con argument is dominated by conservatives in both the government and corporate communities.

John McCain (who is also accused by the Huffington Post as having received more than $800,000 in campaign funding by AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast) rejected the FCC’s vote, and offered a new proposal called the “Internet Freedom Act.”

“Today I’m pleased to introduce the Internet Freedom Act of 2009 that will keep the Internet free from government control and regulation,” McCain said in a statement. “It will allow for continued innovation that will in turn create more high-paying jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeking new employment. Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy.” (CNN)

The only thing missing in the above cliché-filled statement is a series of pictures of crying babies, unemployment lines, and California wildfires. The bottom line here is that politicians, bending to pressure or contributions from opposition parties, will use any words available to tug at either emotions or heart strings, regardless of the presence of factual data to support the position.

AT&T allegedly sent notice to all their employees, including union members and families, to write their representatives in favor of knocking down network neutrality. Perhaps that is a natural activity in the political process, however bandwagon appeals without supporting fact will not give the American people the broadband environment needed to compete in the global market placed.

Let’s look at both arguments in detail. Do a Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other web search on the topic of Net/Network Neutrality. You will find a lot of web references, news stories, blogs, and opinions on the topic. Much of it anarchistic noise, much of it very valuable information.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber, asks the question “What if the United States falls further behind Europe in deployment of broadband networks? What if we lose track of the need to wire each and every community? What if the United States falls so far behind Europe and the rest of the world due to politics preventing innovation that we can never economically recover?”

There are those who still believe the carriers, such as Verizon, AT&T, broadband wireless providers (such as Clearwire), and the cable companies should concentrate their efforts on delivering connectivity to each and every addressable community in the United States. Facility-based carriers (those who own the physical cable) should concentrate on providing bundles of “big, fat, dumb, communications pipes.”

Comments on Net Neutrality are Now Open with the FCC

The great thing about the US system is that no national law is ever a unilateral decision. We have a wonderful system of due-diligence through the congress and senate, with support from the executive and judicial branches of government.

The Federal Communications Commission under the leadership of Chairman Genachowski has opened discussion and the period of comment on the FCC guidelines. The period for comments is open until 14 Jan 2010. Some links for those interested in the topic include:

FCC Seeks Public Input on Draft Rules to Preserve the Free and Open Internet
NPRM: Word | Acrobat
News Release: Word | Acrobat
Genachowski Statement: Word | Acrobat
Copps Statement: Word | Acrobat
McDowell Statement: Word | Acrobat
Clyburn Statement: Word | Acrobat
Baker Statement: Word | Acrobat
Staff Presentation: Acrobat

The question arises, “what if we, as Americans interested in the future of the Internet, American innovation, the American economy, and our future generations actually took the time to read through the issue of Network Neutrality? What if we used our research as a basis for making our own decision on which side of the debate we fall, or if there is yet another strong argument to consider?”

It is a difficult topic, with a lot of noise and clouds shrouding the core issues. Weigh-in, let us know your opinion.

John Savageau, Long Beach

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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