Technology × Freedom

An Update on Net Neutrality

August 9, 2017 nitsuj

We haven’t written much on net neutrality here recently. Partly because we’ve already covered it many times before, and partly because the topic reached max hysteria on July 12 when the EFF and others took part in a “day of action.” It didn’t take long for the same arguments, repeated over-and-over – not just on that day, but for the past three years – to burn me out.

The extreme divisiveness of the net neutrality debate doesn’t help either. If you come out against the idea, you’re labeled a shill for either the government or big telecom, or both. Recent letters sent by the House and Senate to the FCC were signed by 32 Democrats, 1 Independent (Bernie Sanders), and 0 Republicans. Even libertarians are divided.

In short, between the burn out and divisiveness of the net neutrality debate, little gets me excited about it these days. But that’s just me. It’s still an important topic, and spreading counter viewpoints is still a worthwhile endeavor.

Thankfully, a few have been doing just that.

Ryan McMaken, writing for the Miss Institute, hits on the troubling issue of regulatory capture:

Supporters of net neutrality, however, are claiming that the FCC will somehow necessarily work in the “public” interest and against the special interests who — experience tells us — tend to hold the most influence with regulatory agencies.

In practice, the natural outcome of regulatory schemes like net neutrality is “regulatory capture,” in which the institutions with the most at stake in a regulatory agency’s decisions end up controlling the agencies themselves. We see this all the time in the revolving door between legislators, regulators, and lobbyists. And you can also be sure that once this happens, the industry will close itself off to new innovative firms seeking to enter the marketplace. The regulatory agencies will ensure the health of the status quo providers at the cost of new entrepreneurs and new competitors.

Rick Falkvinge, writing for Privacy News Online, sees a similar problem with lobbying, and considers a “bigger picture” solution:

The bigger problem isn’t net neutrality, or the absence of it.

The problem is that politicians in the United States and some other places are giving communications monopolies and tax breaks to entrenched legacy industries – telco and cable – which have an enormous strategic incentive to prevent the Internet from ever reaching its potential, but pretend to embrace it.

The issue of Net Neutrality will not ultimately be resolved by governmental intervention. It will be resolved by lack of governmental intervention, but the lack of such intervention needs to happen about a mile further down the rabbit hole than where the Net Neutrality discussion happens. When cities are fibered, like in Japan and South Korea, and politicians in the West stop pretending last-century industries can solve the problems of this century, only then will Net Neutrality be resolved. You’ll know it’s been resolved not when people talk about and decide on it forcefully, but when people stop talking about it at all, because it’s taken completely for granted in an offering between dozens of ISPs over fiber, none of which are telco or cable companies.

Finally, Brent Skorup, writing at The Technology Liberation Front, exposes the massive loopholes in the existing Open Internet Order:

Applying 1934 telegraph and telephone laws to the Internet was always going to have unintended consequences, but the politically-driven Order increasingly looks like an own-goal, even to supporters. Former FCC chief technologist, Jon Peha, who supports Title II classification of ISPs almost immediately raised the alarm that the Order offered “massive loopholes” to ISPs that could make the rules irrelevant. This was made clear when the FCC attorney defending the Order in court acknowledged that ISPs are free to block and filter content and escape the Open Internet regulations and Title II. These concessions from the FCC surprised even AT&T VP Hank Hultquist:

Wow. ISPs are not only free to engage in content-based blocking, they can even create the long-dreaded fast and slow lanes so long as they make their intentions sufficiently clear to customers.

So the Open Internet Order not only permits the net neutrality “nightmare scenario,” it provides an incentive to ISPs to curate the Internet. Despite the activist PR surrounding the Order, so-called “fast lanes”–like carrier-provided VoIP, VoLTE, and IPTV–have existed for years and the FCC rules allow them. The Order permits ISP blocking, throttling, and “fast lanes”–what remains of “net neutrality”?