How to Solve the Net Neutrality Issue

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to move forward on a rule-making process that could lead to new government regulations for the Internet. That is what the FCC and some activist groups want, although they claim to be supporting only “neutrality.” Even key players seem confused.

The Open Internet Coalition (OIC) says neutrality “is about keeping the hands of several powerful network operators — AT&T, Verizon and Comcast — off the Internet, preventing them from taking steps to change the basic open nature of the Net that has led to its success.”

That’s a strange statement, given that without those companies, the Internet wouldn’t function. Yet, restricting these communications firms sounds good to most Silicon Valley investors and CEOs, since they view them with suspicion as old companies, averse to change and detrimental to the growth of the Net.

No wonder, then, that a bunch of prominent venture capitalists and tech CEOs signed OIC letters last week urging the FCC to protect the “open nature” of the Net.

After all, who could possibly be against an open Internet? Unfortunately, asking the FCC to “protect” the Internet means inviting government oversight, which injects more politics — not less — into the operation of the Net.

FCC to Set Prices?

Tim Draper, one of Silicon Valley’s prominent venture capitalists, said he signed the OIC letter because he is worried that the phone companies want to “muscle in and create some sort of monopoly” over the Internet. He and others are concerned that if they don’t stand up, then the Internet will become captured by special interests that lobby government for favors. However, when asked if the phone companies are a greater threat than government regulation, Draper responded with a strong “no.”

“I hope that they (government regulators) leave it alone,” Draper said. “The Internet is working beautifully as it is.”

Many in Silicon Valley share that view, yet the Open Internet Coalition has something else in mind.

Its Web site claims Net neutrality would “give regulators a limited role to protect the openness of a national network,” and it laments the 2005 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a decision forcing cable companies to share their networks with competitors at government-approved prices.

In other words, the OIC wants the FCC not only to become a watchdog, but also possibly to get involved in managing and pricing Internet services.

Anyone who has followed how well the FCC “managed competition” in telecommunications gasps with horror at the thought that a similar fate might await the Net. Indeed, even the left-leaning Electronic Frontier Foundation is worried about the FCC’s move toward Net neutrality regulations since, as EFF staff attorney Corynne McSherry correctly argues, “experience shows that the FCC is particularly vulnerable to regulatory capture and has a history of ignoring grassroots public opinion.”

Hope Is Not Enough

Ashwin Navin, cofounder of BitTorrent, also says he doesn’t support government regulation of the Net, even though his name appears on an OIC letter. He says he’d rather see Internet service providers come up with a self-regulatory plan based on a pledge to keep the Net open and the creation of a third body to arbitrate. Indeed, Navin says that his own company’s scuffle with Comcast was ultimately solved without formal rules after a netizen noticed that Comcast was degrading service and brought the matter to the public’s attention.

“The problem is disclosure,” Navin says. “Consumers need to know if the ISP, which is the most invisible layer in the stack, is responsible for an improved or degraded experience for any of the services they use.”

That is a very good point — one that the telcos and cable companies would be silly to ignore.

Tim Draper is right that the Internet is working beautifully as it is. However, experience teaches that it’s not enough to hope government regulators will leave it alone. If the tech industry and the major ISPs want to avoid government regulation and keep the Internet thriving, they need to come up with a way to solve the disclosure problem on their own in the marketplace.

Verizon has already started taking steps toward a more constructive stance by co-signing a letter with Google supporting an open Internet. Now it is time for all companies involved to take it to the next level. If that happens, U.S. innovators will be much safer from the claims of militant rent-seeking activists and regulators who want to get their hands on the Net.

The creation of TRUSTe helped the tech industry mobilize and avoid heavy-handed privacy regulations like those that befell Europe. Now it is time for ISPs to support an independent, private body to monitor neutrality issues. Such a move would deflate the pro-regulation lobby and allay the concerns of the industry that is driving U.S. growth.

Sonia Arrison, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is senior fellow in technology studies at the California-based Pacific Research Institute. Follow her on Twitter@soniaarrison


  • In my view of the world, equal access and speed of service should be required of every network provider. ‘Little guy business’ should have exactly the same odds of getting packets sent and received as ‘huge business megalith’.

    On the ‘other hand’ network providers have every reason and right to offer users restricted volume service levels at different price points.

    The point being that my connection should run at exactly the same speed as every other connection whether I buy the 500kb package or 2Tb package.

    I also consider it fair to differentiate between connection types – dial-up, mobile access, cable, FOIS, etc. as long as the rates were tied to the actual costs of providing the connection ONLY.

    I don’t want to stifle either network growth or application innovations. I simply want a level playing field. My home videos and video blog should be just as fast and smooth as Netflix or UTube.

    • We charge extra for "first class" airplane seats near the front of the plane; for overnight delivery of packages; for front row seats at baseball games. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with selling priority delivery of data packets as well. In fact, it is an ENABLING service, because many new services (and new inventions!) are likely to need this sort of special service to work. To prohibit it would be to stifle innovation.

      But of course, this is the reason why Google is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby for regulation that would prohibit this sort of service from being sold. Google, a monopolist, doesn’t want competitors to innovate, though of course it wants to be able to innovate itself. So, it is pushing for regulation that would apply to ISPs but not to its own company.

      Google has a monopoly, but ISPs have aggressive and widespread competition. Competition is sufficient to ensure that consumers can get the best deal possible. So, we must look at regulating or breaking up monopolies such as Google rather than regulating ISPs, who do not need to be regulated at all.

  • The last anti net neutrality article by Sonia was easier to see through.

    The reality of why people need net neutrality is fairly simple: An internet provider should NOT regulate which information goes faster or slower when you pay for some bandwidth on the internet. They currently DO it for profit. They say it causes value to you which is convoluted logic. Net neutrality MUST be demanded as profit motives most definitely demand otherwise. Sonia tries more convoluted logic to try to pawn off the idea that the free market will wind up with net neutrality. Not true, the free market will sniff out every packet of info it can and charge you more for any reason it can think of while free flowing and throttling every packet per thier prospective best interest, rather than simply give you the bandwidth you pay for, simply because it pays well. Right now it is big profit for big biz to control your internet traffic rather than sell you unadulterated flow. They get away with as much as they can while trying to convince you it’s for your own good. Please don’t believe the anti net neutrality people. The companies that want to control your internet usage want to tell you that net neutrality will control you, when in FACT it’s the companies that need some regulation to keep from directly controlling your internet usage. It’s fairly simple to be informed on this issue. I understand that we must be very careful about how we regulate these companies, just like we are with all other forms of media which are regulated by our government. It is true that all these companies could agree to not overly control the internet access we buy from them, but, this will absolutely never happen for the simple fact that they are mostly all lining up like greedy hungry pigs at the trough to nit pick your internet experience into piece meal nickle and dime charges and self serving throttling. Simple to see why someone like Sonia would be all for letting the pigs run wild as the profits are huge compared to just selling you internet access.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Technewsworld Channels