What Both Sides Are Missing About Net Neutrality

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by Derrick Broze, The Anti Media:

Perhaps it’s time we focus on creating a truly decentralized internet.

(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) Washington D.C. — On Thursday, protesters rallied outside the Federal Communications Commission as the agency voted to repeal “Net Neutrality” rules, which govern how Internet Service Providers treat data that travels over their networks. The rules state that ISPs cannot discriminate against or favor certain apps, sites, and services. Supporters of net neutrality fear the change will lead to ISPs charging more for internet services, or “throttling” web traffic to small, independent sites, potentially even alternative media. The FCC has said the repeal of the rules will help spur innovation in the long run.

This is not Thunderdome. The FCC is not killing the internet,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said at the hearing on Thursday. “We are not relying on market forces alone. We are not giving ISPs free reign to dictate your online experience,” he also said.

When developing the network neutrality rules, the FCC built on the concept of “common carriage,” which says all common pathways (waterways, roads, etc) should be open to all people without discrimination. Businesses may choose their prices, but they cannot discriminate against traffic.

The FCC first adopted the rules in 2010 as an effort to combat the apparent threat of ISPs throttling web traffic, specifically, throttling internet service for those attempting to download media from the internet. These rules were eventually overturned in 2014 after a legal challenge from Verizon. However, the FCC continued to develop rules for protecting what has come to be known as net neutrality. In 2015, the Obama Administration classified ISPs as public utilities similar to telephone service providers. This effectively put the relationship between ISPs and consumers back into the hands of the government via the FCC. As of Thursday’s vote, that is no longer the policy.

The supporters of net neutrality say the repeal of the rules means large corporations with deep pocketbooks could potentially pay broadband providers extra cash to ensure their sites and services stream in excellent quality while viewers of smaller sites could suffer from a lower quality internet experience. This would allow the big ISPs to charge higher prices because they would be able to absorb potential losses of customer revenue more easily than a smaller business or startup.

Of course, another segment of the debate argues that the repeal of net neutrality will not cause “The End of the Internet,” as some have proclaimed, but rather, the absence of the rules could encourage ISPs to provide more customer-specific packages for accessing the internet and cable. For example, if your grandmother only gets online once a week to check email and scroll Pinterest, perhaps she does not need to pay the same amount as the guy down the street who is always online and regularly uses cable television services. The argument is that now — without burdensome government regulation in the way — the ISPs will actually provide more diversity of services. Sure, some will charge higher prices for certain packages, but in the long run, the prices will come down because of competition.

Another perspective is that the focus should not be on fighting the big cable companies or the FCC, but on pushing back against regulation at the local level by fighting city governments and public utilities. “The real bottleneck isn’t incumbent providers of broadband, but incumbent providers of rights-of-way,” a 2013 Wired opinion piece stated. “These incumbents — the real monopolists — also have the final say on whether an ISP can build a network. They determine what hoops an ISP must jump through to get approval.

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