I spent a pretty hefty part of the weekend reading about net neutrality. Being that... contrary to popular belief in segments of this family... I am not a raving left wing nut ball, I figured it wasn't a black and white as some folks were attempting to present. It's not black and white...and it's not even all that grey. It's a frickin' symphony of color and I'm pretty well convinced no one has a handle on the meaning of the court’s rejection of the FCC's ability to regulate internet service.
This is an interesting issue all by itself, harkening back to the point, when in 2005, the FCC issued the Broadband Policy Statement the internet was not deemed to be a public utility like telephone service. In other places, like most of Europe and Asia. In 2009, the FCC went further and announced it would be established a protocol for net neutrality. [See Wiki's article on net neutrality for a detailed description the process.]
When I think about this stuff. I think of SPACEBALLS and Perri-Aire. Sorry. I can't help myself.
Because the FCC declined to declare the internet a public utility, the Federal Court of Appeals has declared the FCC to be overstepping its bounds in attempting to preserve net neutrality. People are sharpening their pitchforks and soaking their torches getting ready to march on Washington. The problem is most folks, as well intentioned as they are, don't understand what they're protesting. It’s not solely about content; it's as much about access and transfer speeds.
The courts are literal. They will look at the law and the law suit to determine if the government even has the right to make up rules for this internet. By not declaring the net a public utility, regulation of the info-bahn is really set to be at the discretion of the providers. As such, they should be the ones with the right to regulate who gets to drive down that road and how fast. Guys like Verizon are maintaining the road, so why shouldn't they be allowed to cut deals for their loyal customers to get better/faster service...like the EZ-Pass getting you into the fast lane.
But is it as easy as that?
The real answer is no. The internet has turned out to be far adaptive than we might have thought even five years ago. We have seen a world explode with smart phones, WI-FI, variable access, public access, and streaming. Bandwidth is a central part of how things flow. You end up asking questions like,
- Should NetFlix pay the same amount for access as some other data-transfer company or should there be limits?
- Should massive amounts of data be 'fast tracked' to move them along and is there a value that can be set on how much it costs to do that?
- Should there be a class or tier structure for big v. small companies, individual users v. household users, streaming households v. non-streaming households?
- Should a company who owns the access rights be able to determine who is allowed travel down the internet?
Think of the net as a the US highway system. There are throughways, freeways, parkways, turnpikes, tolls roads, county roads, boulevards, streets, gravel roads, and dirt tracks. You can drive on ‘em all. How fast you go depends on a number of factors….like road condition, speed limit (theoretically) and density of traffic. Unless it’s a toll road, you just get on it and drive. Some areas have rush hour rules, diamond lanes, EZ Pass and stuff like that to help manage traffic flow. But if you don’t want to pay a toll, you can usually go a different route. But the point is you can get there. Just like most roads, net neutrality ensures people can get on the net and move information around. Yes, you can pay for better, faster speeds…like the EZPass…but the network itself is free and available.
The FCC is attempting to protect general access. By declaring the net a public utility, it cannot be shut off at corporate whim. The Court of Appeals, by overturning the FCC’s right to make that determination, opens the door to corporate strangulation of net access. Why the net wasn’t declared a public utility in 2005 or 2009 when the issue first came under scrutiny is a mystery….and grotesquely short-sighted on the part of the FCC. If you’re thinking that would never happen, take a look at a not so dissimilar issue with CBS and Time Warner. The losers there were the viewers. Big time.
The fight, then is about general access to the net as well as the ability to move information around without censorship. The dimwits who think the FCC is overstepping its bounds are the same ones who think the US has the best delivery system in the world for health care. The FCC ultimately has the august responsibility of maintaining equal access. By preventing the establishment of net neutrality, we open the door to ISP providers being able to censor as well as rank information. The net nanny you had at work now can be applied by your ISP provider. Whose job is it to censor? Should there be censorship at all?
Right now, roads are government things. The USPS, while technically its own company now, is still a government agency obliged to follow privacy protocols. Everyone gets to use ‘em. You can pay for an EZPass or Priority Mail, but there’s some level of service for everyone and no one company controls access. You pay for water and sewer, but everyone gets public access. For contrast, look how the power companies are run. Wanna talk about stranglehold monopolies?
The internet should be like roads or the USPS, not like the Xcel or ConEd. Frankly, I'm not sure how this is going to play out. I suspect this will go all the way to the Supreme Court, and then the whole concept of the FCC will be the subject of intense scrutiny. This will play out in the same way "corporations are people" played out in the last fund raising cycle. Clearly, the paradigm is shifting. Are we still a nation with a social contract, or are we a corporate entity. These are not easy or easily answered questions but they are beginning to address the very nature of who we are as a nation and as a people.
We, the People are about to be taken on a less-than-joy ride with the internet. Fasten your seat belts…it’s gonna be a bumpy night.
The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
The St. Paul Winter Carnival Medallion is not hidden on a golf course.