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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Net Neutrality-government control doesn't equal a better experience.

Net Neutrality is an answer to a problem that, for the most part, does not exist. It is regulation on top of regulation without a need. In fact, Net Neutrality, as proposed, does little more than add bureaucracy to laws, rules and guidelines already in place.

Essentially the FCC wants to expand the already existing Internet Policy Statement, (PDF) introduced in 2005. This statement includes four broad principles of Internet access, desired deployment and availability:
•To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
•To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
•To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
•To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers,application and service providers, and content providers.
These principles were laid out to be used as guidelines toward any future decisions and rule making by the FCC. For the most part, these guidelines and existing laws protecting freedom of expression and Anti-Trust business practices have served the Internet, it's proprietors and it's consumers very well. Those that don't change their ways are tried in the court of public opinion and lose scores of customers. On the legal side-they were all able to be prosecuted or their behavior changed using current law.

In addition to the above statements, the new updated draft includes two more provisions the FCC would like to see incorporated.
  • The fifth focuses on preventing ISPs from discriminating against specific content or applications.
  • The sixth will focus on requiring that ISPs be completely transparent about their network management practices.

The fifth proposed rule would seem like a good idea if all applications and content required the same access and treatment; this is simply not the case. Consider this, applications providing streaming media or on-line web conferencing, like Skype, require much more bandwidth and will tolerate almost no latency or lost packets for a reasonable user experience. If me sending some updates to my web site (which can be slower) got the exact same treatment as your award winning Skype video presentation which is sure to earn you a million dollars (which cannot tolerate dropped packets) I would think you'd be unhappy about it. The fact is, not all applications can be treated equally and we wouldn't want them to be. We want an awesome user experience, therefore we want some things to be higher priority than others. Such neutrality is even at direct odds with this Administrations seeming fascination with electronic medical records. If a patients heart scan traveling from one hospital to another is treated the same as email to your Aunt Millie, EMR is just not going to be practical in the long run. There is beauty in having applications and services that require priority and high bandwidth too-those companies pay more. They pay a higher fee to have guaranteed service levels that the regular Joe's just don't need. In addition, if regular Joe wants that service level he can pay for it-there is nothing barring you from getting better service should you want it. The cost might be very high, but that's how things work in every sector of life; if you want to drive a Cadillac instead of an Escort, you pay more. If you want to live in a mansion instead of a brick bungalow, you pay more. Finally, an unintended consequence of treating all data the same would be likely much higher costs for Internet service for everyone. The days of unlimited Internet access for $19.99 per month would be out the door. If ISP's can't offer higher service to companies that want to pay a premium, they will simply move to a model where they will charge everyone by the bit. There is no doubt that for some, this would definately raise the price of access.

The six proposed rule only has a modicum of even being reasonable in this day and age. First off all most ISP's spell out exactly the terms of using their service and what steps they will take to ensure you receive the service you pay for and what penalties you pay if you abuse it. Most folks are too lazy to read it, but this is not the fault of the ISP. The second part would be disclosing how ISP's actually manage the networks. I don't know a single solitary regular person who would A) give one whit how network management is done and B) would understand it even if some did tell them. Most folks don't read the terms of service; they would never read a network management document.

The problem with government is the desire to control absolutely every aspect of our lives. It is only because of few high profile cases in which applications or content was restricted by an ISP, that further regulation is even being considered. I agree censoring of any kind should be prohibited-but we already have laws dealing with free speech and censorship-we don't need more government interference assuring us we have the right to Rights we are already guaranteed in this country. In addition, make no mistake, the Net Neutrality rules under consideration do not further guarantee your right anything. You are still subject to the same old rules of "legal and lawful content". Net Neutrality only gives the government more power to have influence over things, of which most of them have no knowledge and it does, in fact, open the door to tighter controls down the line. The language is vague and ambiguous-always a bad idea when giving more control to an agency that doesn't have the foggiest idea what they're doing. Just ask China, Germany and the EU how Net Neutrality is working out for them. They are blocking applications and limiting traffic at an alarming rate.

Proponents of Net Neutrality will try to tell you these regulations will guarantee and protect your right to unfettered legal access to the Internet-but, you already have that. I do agree we need "vigilance and a willingness to act" when necessary to keep the Internet an open and accessible place to be. What we don't need are more regulations to make that happen. We need to utilize the departments, regulations, rules and laws we already have to ensure that, like every other shared technology we have, the Internet remains useful, affordable and accessible to all.