// The Comment #4: Net Neutrality


The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

## Net Neutrality

FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai, unveiled his plans to rescind Net Neutrality legislation last week.  Net Neutrality prevents Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Comcast, Verizon, Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) from preferring internet traffic from one website or internet service over another. It demands that ISPs make no preference, after all bytes are just bytes.  Without Net Neutrality regulations, ISPs will be free to do what they want on their networks, as long as they are transparent about it.  For example, AT&T will be free to prefer their own movie streaming products and apps over their competitor’s products like YouTube and Netflix¹. Preference can be established by either slowing down traffic from competitor’s or charging consumers more to access those products.  This is legal as long as they are transparent about it and don’t incur any anti-trust violations. Violations will be heard by the Federal Trade Commission aka the FTC.

The thinking is that customers have the ability to change ISPs (free market right?).  Except, only 22% of the country has access to 2 or more broadband providers (a broadband provider is an ISP that offers 25Mbps/3Mbps download/upload service).  This means if Net Neutrality ceases to be a thing and you only have one option for internet access, and your only option slows down Netflix, you are effectively out of luck².

To me, Net Neutrality regulation has always been fraught.  It is a partisan issue where small government, free market conservatives debate big government liberals on whether the internet should be regulated.  As the administration changes, as we see, so does Net Neutrality regulation.  Furthermore, regulation does tend to burden smaller companies with paperwork and process.  Smaller companies don’t have the resources of the larger companies.  Regulation actually favors the incumbents with access to significant resources and because of this it tends to stifle innovation and startups.  Anytime you introduce regulation, you are making a tradeoff, potentially preventing opportunities for innovation, for a societal benefit.  Regulation is not inherently a bad thing like regulations that private companies from contaminating local water supplies or health insurance companies not denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

We need ISP competition at the local level.  A significant issue is that there is no competition for customers for ISPs in most areas of the country.  They don’t compete on price, services, performance, or reliability.  Most home and small businesses are stuck with 1 or 2 mediocre choices.  We need local loop unbundling where cities, towns, states, or other local entities own and operate the infrastructure that connect homes and businesses to ISPs.  In an unbundled environment, there’s a single connection going into homes or businesses (fiber, copper, or coax).  Those connections and infrastructure are maintained by a different entity (ie. not the Comcast, Verizon, etc).  Internet service providers interface with the city, town, state or maintaining entity offering their services to customers in those areas.  Because there are fewer obstacles to overcome (like needing to physically connect homes and businesses) there are all of a sudden more ISPs competing on price, services, performance, reliability, and in Ajit Pai’s world, whether or not they prefer an app or product over another.

For those who grew up using the internet in the mid to late 90s, local loop unbundling is exactly what happened.  The Telecommunications Act of 1996 included a provision that unbundled the local telephone loop (also known as the last mile) from the phone companies. It forced incumbents to open up their telephone networks to competitors.  This gave way to dozens of premium ISPs like America Online, Excite, CompuServe and even free, ad-supported ISPs like NetZero.  These ISPs competed on services, performance, features, price, and reliability.  Customers were able to easily move from one ISP to another.  Competition amongst national & regional wireless carriers, and MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Cricket, US Cellular, and Project Fi have also led to pretty decent prices, features, and choice for people looking for cell phone service.

Read more about the effects of local loop unbundling vs Net Neutrality at Ars Technica.

1 – I keep using Netflix and YouTube as examples because those are obvious examples with very visible consequences.  The product or app could be something integral to your career working remotely or your small business.  Net Neutrality isn’t here just to protect video streaming, it’s meant to preserve an open internet.

2 – Effectively out of luck, unless you have the resources to sue the offending ISP in Federal court.

// Net Neutrality & Civil Rights

Andy Newman in his Medium article on the Internet being the next civil rights battleground

If you don’t care about equal access because your access can never be threatened, you expose those who don’t have the money or political power to fight back. This is how inequality develops. Each generation has been defined by struggles for freedom, in ways both big and small. Access to technology and the promise of privacy does not necessarily impact the body of American citizens as directly as other forms of injustice, but limiting connectivity or pushing people off of platforms for fear of tracking will deprive them of education and work. It will starve the body and mind both figuratively and literally.

// A Nuanced Net Neutrality Debate

The usual hosts of The Vergecast, Nilay Patel, Dieter Bohn, and Paul Miller have a nuanced conversation for and against the FCC’s decision to rescind net neutrality legislation. It’s a good, but long and at times, terse, discussion if you have an hour to kill.

// In Rotation: 718.fm from MICK and Chi Duly

What happens when you take Jay-Z’s most lyrical and personal verses & juxtapose them with DJ Premier’s most dark and precise works? The result is 7:18. This mixtape is a love letter to the hiphop we grew up listening to. This is for the people who grew up analyzing the b-side of every Gangstarr and Group Home single. This is for the people who listened to Jay’s “A Million And One Questions” a million and one times.

Jay-Z lyrics over DJ Premier production.  Absolutely 💯!

Download 7:18 from 718.fm.

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