Democracy of an open Internet

Out_of_the_park2When you make telephone calls, you’ve come to expect them to be routed through the telecommunications network with a consistent level of service, no better or worse an experience than anyone else using the network.

Although, with any traffic system, there can be slight delays here and there. In these situations, data is queued up in an orderly fashion and processed as soon as technically possible. For all intents and purposes, once your call is initiated, communication is instantaneous.

Would you think it fair, then, that a person could pay a little extra to the phone company and have his phone calls routed more quickly? After all, isn’t it a free country? If a phone company wants to offer this option, why not? If you’re simply paying your phone bill at the regular rate, shouldn’t you have to cope with a few extra busy signals in favor of the other guy who paid more?

Legislation governing telecommunications in the U.S.

Well, in fact, no. It’s illegal for phone companies in America to allow paid prioritization.congress

Phone companies are regulated by the Communications Act of 1934, and specifically by Title II of the act, which states:

It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.

But, what about the Internet?

FCC steps up

Don’t know about you, but me and at least 4 million other people were gratified to see landmark rules passed on February 26 by the Federal Communications Commission.

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Under this ruling, the Internet is to be treated as a Title II public transmission entity just like the phone companies. Internet service providers will not be allowed to in any way throttle Internet transmissions across their lines, or accelerate the speed of those transmissions for extra cost.

This is a very good thing, indeed. Why? Because the Internet has very much become a public utility, important to the everyday lives of nearly 300 million U.S. citizens and over 3 billion people worldwide for communication, news and information, education, and entertainment.

An open Internet is also important for many small businesses and entrepreneurs working to build the next great web application or portal. For them, an open and fair Internet is crucial.

Although ISPs have every right to charge you to use their equipment and services, once their private networks end and the public Internet begins, they should be subject to the same rules as anyone else.

Like average citizens, ISPs are Internet users, as well, and any data that comes into their networks from the Internet, or leaves their networks to go onto the Internet should not be prioritized, sped up, slowed down, or otherwise handled differently from any other data.

To its credit, the FCC recognizes that commercial entities must not be able to usurp the Internet for their own purposes.

What ISPs can do

Certainly ISPs can make their private networks as speedy as possible to compete with other ISPs. Just like the mobile phone companies that claim to have the fastest LTE speeds and the widest coverage, ISPs can make improvements, add private network nodes in multiple regions of the country, and work other magic to provide their customers with the best experience.fast_internet

But all customers of a particular ISP should enjoy the same performance. A wealthy company or individual should not be able to pay ISPs extra to prioritize their data, because that would not only impact the average user, but also hurt fledgling start-ups, inventors, and innovators who need a democratic Internet to succeed.

Facebook, Google, and many other companies who flourished because of an open Internet know this, and have strongly supported net neutrality.

There are a million and one scenarios that strongly suggest that anything other than a fair and democratic Internet would be a mistake. The FCC recognized this, and acted accordingly.

Politics and lawsuits, oh my

Unfortunately, net neutrality has become a political issue. Even the FCC vote was 3-2 along party lines. The two dissenters among the five-member panel were Republicans. One of them, Ajit Pai, in the dissenting opinion said:

For twenty years, there’s been a bipartisan consensus in favor of a free and open Internet—one unfettered by government regulation. So why is the FCC turning its back on Internet freedom? It is flip-flopping for one reason and one reason alone. President Obama told it to do so. The Commission’s decision to adopt President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works. It’s an overreach that will let a Washington bureaucracy, and not the American people, decide the future of the online world.

We know that President Obama has come out in favor of net neutrality. But the FCC is an independent organization and is able to make its decisions unilaterally without outside directives.

And, frankly, regulation is not necessarily evil. We’ve seen how an unfettered banking industry nearly bankrupted the American economy. Indeed, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act after that dark episode in our nation’s history.

If the broadband industry led by the likes of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T had its way, could we really rely on profit-taking motives to keep the Internet free and open? If you believe so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

In the coming months, we can expect those commercial broadband behemoths to launch lawsuits against the recent FCC action. Even legislation against the FCC mandate from the Republican-led Congress might be in the offing.

not_ted_cruzIt seems that, today, anything that has a whiff of something supported by President Obama is anathema.

Senator Ted Cruz, whom I believe is a political opportunist of the worst kind, has called net neutrality ObamaCare for the Internet.

Well, ok, let’s take a look at that absurd statement.

Was Obamacare perfect legislation? Of course not. But, today, some 12 million people who were previously uninsured now have health insurance, and in fact, health insurance costs in this country are stabilizing.

So by Senator Cruz’s logic, we can only infer that net neutrality is a good thing.

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