Friday, November 14, 2014

Net Neutrality, Title II and the Looming Battle to Reframe the Debate

I was deeply surprised when I read that Obama had weighed in on Net Neutrality and had come down on the side of reclassifying broadband as a regulated service. Initially, my thought was, "finally, someone on the government side weighs in on the side of common sense." I actually expected the No Drama team to take a more nuanced, less sided approach, common sense and millions of public comments to the FCC be damned. "This," I thought, "might be the defining moment when we take back the initiative on the Internet and return it to a free and open communications platform." If, despite all of the lobbying and industry money aimed at sanctioning Comcast's "right" to manipulate the bits flowing into your computer, Obama could get behind reclassification, perhaps there was hope.

And then I began reading some of the articles being published, like this interview with Tim Wu in the Washington Post.
So what does Obama's statement do to the politics?
The FCC was leaning toward a slightly more compromised approach, and I suppose having the White House do this could leave them feeling like they have no allies and are unwilling to act for a while. I imagine they're not very happy over there.

Chairman Wheeler's statement on Obama's move actually, seemed, well, pretty sassy. It emphasized how the FCC is an independent agency...
I think the FCC had settled, and may still be settled, on a different way of using Title II. And without the White House on its side and with Congress against it, they're kind of in that middle of the road area where you get run over. Politically, they're stranded right now, and I'm not sure what that means from them. Wheeler seems to be indicating that they're going to push the hold button on net neutrality, which could be a disappointing outcome if that hold button stays there for a very long time.

Their argument seems to be that they haven't developed the record to be able to defend a Title II-based approach in court. But Title II has been around for 80 years.
"We don't have the record yet" is agency-speak for, "we gotta figure out what to do next." They can act without the White House and without Congress, but no one one in Washington likes to go it alone. It's very precarious.
There's been a persistent effort for more than decade to stigmatize Title II, to make it unusable and unmentionable. The fact that the president's talking about it and that the Commission has also been talking about it, at least in hybrid forms, means that Title II is back alive. There's been millions spent to make Title II dead and buried. And there it is. It has risen. It's a live law again. Title II is back.
After reading this piece, the next thing that happened was that I started noticing a incoming tide of media appearances by more people talking about net neutrality, The funny thing about it is, while the Republican-linked opposition also likes to stand up on soapbox and tell us that we stand on the precipice about to step into our doom, they usually follow the dark picture with "Regulation equals the anti-Christ, that it is so evil that it will destroy everything that we hold dear". When it comes to the anti-net neutrality lobby, they then begin a shift into telling us how lucky that we all are.

I heard one guy talking about how incredible our Internet access was and how lucky that we were compared to the rest of the world -- that we have LTE wireless broadband service available in most areas around the country -- way more wireless broadband deployment than any other global region. He then used this as a basis to say that we have lots of choices when it comes to broadband. The politics of disinformation -- it's good to see that our horseshit manufacturing industry continues to thrive.

The Bottom Line
Despite millions of people commenting to the FCC and a broad, popular understanding that the Internet is breaking / broken, the moneyed interest want an Internet that benefits them, one where they can profit on every packet of data, where they can control content and ensure that all of your content incoming content comes from them at a low low monthly price of $200-300 per month, perhaps with an optional $100 per month for a premium package with movies or sports. These are the guys spending on lobbying, on congress and the FCC. They are buying opinions.

The anti-network neutrality folks want to have to create a different kind of internet. Several years ago, people wanted to charge ISPs with being complicit with users who did illegal things. Downloaded something illegal, maybe provided the infrastructure for someone pirating movies and music. But, with the big guns of a lawsuit facing them, most of the ISPs stood up and said, "hey, we're not responsible for what our users do -- we merely provide an access platform. We have no control over what goes through that pipe. Now, as people start using that pipe do deliver services that are competitive to their content industry and they're like "oh no, this is no good. Somebody should be paying for this..." The reality is that they have been monitoring your traffic and they've even been inserting packets into your traffic. They are not just providing an access pipe.

But this is a great story. Netflix is a Data Hog And other myths about Net Neutrality provides you with a simple reminder about the core lie that's driving the anti-network neutrality folks. From this article:
Some people use the Internet ten minutes a day to check their email. Some people leave their computers on 24/7 to download entire video libraries. None of them are data hogs.
How can I say this so unequivocally? Because nobody gets a drop more data than what they pay for. The ISPs make damn sure of that. If you pay for, say, a 10 megabit per second connection, you are not getting any more than 10 megabits of data per second even if you have Bittorrent set to “Stun” all day every day.
And this also points to another fundamental lie underneath the whole anti-network neutrality side of the argument. If we all downloaded our 10 megabits at the same time, we would cause tremendous problems for our ISP. Comcast would crash. We would break the Internet. Why? Because even while they've promised you 10 Mbps, they have oversubscribed their line. They've sold you capacity that they can't guarantee, driven by the idea that most of the time, everyone won't need all of it. But do you get a rebate for all of that bandwidth that you don't use? No, because that wouldn't maximize their profit.

But, in the same way that by framing "lots of competitive broadband options" if you count your phone as being equal to the wired connection coming into your house or your office, framing Netflix as a data hog makes you feel like somebody watching Orange is the New Black is taking something away from you because all you want to do is check your email.

And so, the "independent" FCC needs to keep working in order to find a find a way where that can sell you no net neutrality with kind of like net neutrality wrapper.

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