An open letter to the FCC on net neutrality

canstockphoto12444310The FCC has set up an email address, openinternet@fcc.gov, inviting citizens to provide feedback on the agency’s plan to protect net neutrality. Problem is the plan has not been released for review. It’s hard to provide feedback on something when you haven’t seen it.

Which makes us wonder whether this federal agency gets the whole “communication” thing.

Nonetheless, reports (see here and here) are emerging about the FCC’s proposals, so, based on those, we’re going to give it the old college try. Following is an open letter to the FCC, which we sent to the provided email address:fcc-logo

April 27, 2014

Federal Communications Commission
Washington, DC

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

I’m writing to express my concerns over reported FCC plans to “protect” net neutrality, a concept that I believe is absolutely vital to the American people. If reports are accurate, however, the FCC plans won’t in fact protect net neutrality at all.

As I understand it, what is about to be proposed includes an Internet fast lane for profit. If true, this goes against the very essence of net neutrality, where all bits of data are treated equally. I’ll explain in a moment why this is a critical distinction, but first I think it’s important to take a step back and consider the bigger picture of the Internet.

I know that policy-wise the Internet is not treated as “basic” telecommunications like the public telephone network, which is tightly regulated and must serve the public interest. Rather, the Internet is considered an “enhanced” communication service, and was purposely deregulated to enable what was once a fairly closed network to blossom into what is now the World Wide Web.

The web as we know it today is a cornucopia of educational, commercial, entertainment, and governmental services, and a robust communication medium that is providing the world at our fingertips.

The very thought that commercial interests—the Comcasts of the world—could control the Internet is upsetting, but even more important, a mistake of epic proportions. What is the very purpose of the FCC if not to ensure that the Internet remains an open, egalitarian environment that serves the greater good?

Which brings us back to the simple but elegant concept of net neutrality. Simple because a bit is a bit, all bits should be created equally. Elegant because it ensures against discrimination and enables anyone with access to enjoy the freedom of using the Internet undeterred.

There are many examples of why net neutrality is important, but one that comes readily to mind, and which many people can appreciate is streaming video. If I pay my service provider for 50 Mb Internet service, then any data I choose to access should be delivered at this speed.

Why on earth is it fair for a service provider to throttle down streaming video? If anything, it’s a blatant conflict of interest, because most service providers are cable TV providers, as well.

I was both surprised and concerned when I read that Netflix recently agreed to pay Comcast for improved delivery speeds for the last mile into users’ homes. Netflix has always been a proponent of net neutrality, but it seemed obvious that the company’s streaming speeds were hampered and it felt obligated to ensure that its programming was reaching its customers satisfactorily.

Although Comcast denies that it has ever throttled Netflix feeds to customers, there is a fair amount of evidence that the company is being disingenuous on this issue. In fact, Comcast has been quoted as asking, rhetorically, why it should “prop up the competition.”

If this letter sounds like a rant against Comcast, it’s not meant to be. The company just happens to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room and an exemplar of why net neutrality is more important today than it has ever been.

Without it, individuals and fledgling start-up companies who might be dreaming up the next big thing—a brilliant new communication paradigm or a fundamentally better educational concept—could be cut off at the knees.

Am I incorrect in believing that the FCC, as a governmental agency, should be serving the best interests of the nation at large, rather than deep-pocketed commercial enterprises?

I work in the high tech computer industry, and while this is anecdotal, virtually everyone I talk to at work supports net neutrality, and is worried about the implications of a tiered Internet. From a policy perspective and as a public benefit, net neutrality is the closest thing to a “no-brainer” that I, and many of my friends and colleagues, can imagine.

Chairman Wheeler, I hope you and your agency will do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Jim Cahill

Managing Editor
tech-52.com

 

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