My comments on the FCC’s proposal to roll back net neutrality

2015 called. They want their debate about equal access back.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote a proposal to roll back net neutrality protections, misleadingly named “Restoring Internet Freedom.” Its viewpoints represent a huge step back for competition on the Internet. Here are some choice quotes from my quick skim (emphasis mine):

Internet service providers routinely change the form or content of the information sent over their networks — for example, by using firewalls… We believe that consumers want and pay for these functionalities that go beyond mere transmission — and that they have come to expect them as part and parcel of broadband Internet access service.

— Restoring Internet Freedom, Paragraph 30

Sorry, which consumers are asking for more ISP-based features? We just want fast Netflix, and enough competition to ensure that founders can create more Netflixes in the future.

When is “throttling” harmful to consumers? Does the no-throttling rule prevent providers from offering broadband Internet access service with differentiated prioritization that benefits consumers?

— Restoring Internet Freedom, Paragraph 82

Translated: What is this harmful “throttling” of which you speak? Lobbyists have paid us not to understand!

You can see the proposal in all its gory detail on the FCC’s website. Don’t forget to send them a note refuting your favorite paragraph! TechCrunch posted an excellent guide on submitting a comment.

I was hoping to submit a few sentences and be done with it, but the more I read, the more I felt that Someone Was Wrong On The Internet. Here are my “brief comments” in case they help inspire yours:

I am writing to oppose Docket No. 17-108, a harmful proposal predicated on misleading views about the nature of the Internet.

Paragraph 29 claims that ISPs don’t offer “telecommunications” services because the users don’t know which IP addresses they wish to communicate with, and don’t know where their data is being stored. This explanation is technically correct, but unfortunately, in focusing on the implementation details rather than describing how users understand the Internet, it loses the forest for the trees. For example, the average consumer know the difference between calling their family over Skype or FaceTime. Although the mechanism through which the user’s computer directs the ISP to send voice data involves first translating the domain name to an IP address, that is merely an artifact of history which is never seen by the typical consumer. The Internet could have been designed so ISPs handle requests without that translation step. But the behavior and incentives of ISPs would remain the same from the viewpoint of regulators and consumers. It’s clear that “points specified by the user” should mean the names of websites or other service providers — not the physical or IP addresses of the machines providing the services.

Paragraph 29 also asks what functionalities ISPs serve beyond mere transmission. As an internet user, my answer is “none.” I am not interested in any additional services offered by my ISPs, Comcast and AT&T Mobility. I am paying them to transmit my data to and from the websites of my choice as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Paragraph 30 asserts that users would be willing to pay for additional services, such as ISP-based filtering. As a user, I believe this to be false. I use Comcast at home, Cogent at work, and AT&T Mobility on my smartphone. What I need the most is a consistent experience across my ISPs. If AT&T offers filtering but Comcast does not, then the webpages I visit at home might look different from the webpages I load on the bus.

Additionally, firewalls do not represent a “change in form” of the content. Firewalls only block or allow content to pass through the network. A firewall cannot, for example, summarize a news article like a blogger might, or filter a pictures as a photographer might.

Paragraphs 72–75 ask about the purpose of the internet conduct standard, and 82–84 ask whether it’s necessary to prohibit throttling and paid prioritization. When ISPs treat traffic equally, regardless of source or destination, the Internet becomes a vibrant and competitive marketplace. It’s why, for the past 20 years, consumers have been able to choose the services they prefer. It’s allowed businesses, even small ones, to compete for customers on a level playing field. This situation began to change a few years ago. Comcast refused to peer with Netflix, causing Netflix movie streams to stop loading while Comcast’s own media offerings worked flawlessly. Fortunately for Netflix, they already had deep enough pockets to pay off Comcast. But what happens when the next startup doesn’t? Even if they have a better product, they will have a harder time driving adoption because of the increased costs associated with pay-to-play access. In conclusion, now that ISPs are threatening to throttle competing service or zero-rate their own offerings, it’s essential for the FCC to impose standards to ensure that all players have equal access to the network.

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