Strangling the Internet: Government headed in disastrous direction [OPINION]

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We may soon be entering an age of digital discrimination, where all websites are not created equal. The government is supporting a law to allow Internet Service Providers like Comcast to charge websites and companies fees to ensure their content is distributed with guaranteed speed to consumers.

obama-wheeler-piggyback

Some of today’s most powerful companies were built on the shoulders of the Internet. The US Government seems poised to section off the web into a VIP piggy back riding zone

Regardless of where you place “The Internet” on the list of greatest technological developments of the past century, it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t had the most profound global impact in the shortest period of time. Some of today’s most powerful companies – Google, Facebook, and Twitter – were built on the shoulders of the Internet. Hopeful entrepreneurs and innovators of the future may not have this same luxury: the US Government seems poised to section off the web into a VIP piggy back riding zone.

When you buy internet service from the likes of Comcast and Time Warner Cable you’re essentially paying for access to bandwidth. Up until now, for the most part, all bandwidth is created equal. Whether you’re reading e-mail, watching videos on Youtube, browsing Facebook, or checking up on the latest Android News on Phandroid, you could expect the same consistent speed and levels of service.

That could change. And if it does, it could be a devastating blow to this open and awesome thing we call the Internet.

The United States Government, by way of the FCC, has announced that it supports “fast lanes” for the Internet where companies are able to pay service providers for more and faster bandwidth to consumers. For example, Netflix could work out a deal with Comcast to ensure their content is streamed quick enough to give users a good movie-watching experience.

This helps absolutely nobody- except for the Internet service providers.

This hurts innovators trying to make “the next big thing” who can’t be sure their service is being delivered quickly relative to huge corporate competitors. This hurts huge corporate competitors who can be price gauged by Internet Service Providers if they want to ensure the best possible experience for customers. And this hurts consumers who – when they go online – could get an uneven and unfair experience depending on which site or companies they patronize.

This is bad.

In some regards you can sympathize with with the Internet Service Providers who have to deliver exponentially more bandwidth than in years past. Ten years ago, nobody was streaming HD content to their TV through their Internet on a daily basis, yet these companies are shouldering the increased bandwidth costs.

fcc-logoThe ISPs need to be provided a competitive environment, but the FCC can not allow for net neutrality to be the basis on which that environment is delivered. In 20 years from now, where will the Internet be? If these “fast lanes” are created, I don’t want to know. The government is putting their toes on a slippery slope that could create a very unfortunate and entitled Internet ecosystem. The sense of entitlement should be on the side of consumers, not the corporations and not the government.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the stance, claiming the notion that they’re “gutting the Open Internet rule” is “flat out wrong”. But the stance is so open to interpretation that it can (and will) eventually be twisted by lobbyists and corporations.

Here are his “I’m talking but not saying anything” assurances:

The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original open Internet rules, and consistent with the court’s decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted.

He also insisted companies would be forced to act in a “commercially reasonable manner.” If you ask me, commercially reasonable would mean keeping net neutrality… neutral… and finding other ways to correct the direction of their business that don’t violate Internet equality.

Edward Wyatt of the New York Times weighed in saying, “big, rich companies with the money to pay large fees to Internet service providers would be favored over small start-ups with innovative business models — stifling the birth of the next Facebook or Twitter.”

Perhaps Michael Weinberg of community advocacy group Public Knowledge said it best, “This standard allows Internet service providers to impose a new price of entry for innovation on the Internet.” And then once you make it, your newly great company will be “taxed” into the ground to ensure your content/service is properly delivered on the web.

If you ask me, one of the most beautiful things of the Internet is the ridiculously low barrier to entry. Almost nothing. And the value to access is astronomical.

Netflix responded to this development by issuing the following statement, “The proposed approach is the fastest lane to punish consumers and Internet innovators.”

Netflix

The more appropriate avenue to address these industry concerns would be to tell Comcast and similar companies to adjust their business model. We’ve seen mobile network providers like Verizon and AT&T deal with the bandwidth burden by adjusting their service packages based on data consumption. It might not be a popular move, but it beats what they’re proposing by light years. I’d be happy to pay a higher price and keep net neutrality intact and I think other consumers would, too, if they knew the potential long-term implications.

The government might think these “fast lanes” are a good idea to help the flow of traffic, but the only thing they’d be supporting is a highway to Internet hell.

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  • h4rr4r

    This started the minute they let internet providers say you could not host servers on home connections. I was one of the few who complained then.

    The internet must be peer to equal peer. It will turn into Cable before I die of old age, and I will be sad to have lived through the heyday and the downfall.

  • BGRUGGER

    So, how can we spread the word and help stop this nonsense??

  • Tojen1981

    So much for Democrats being the party of the “little guy”.

    • blest

      One beast, two different heads.

      • Mikey Styles

        Couldn’t agree more!! People have been Media Pounded into believing one Party is worse than than the other depending on what publication, news site, or channel you watch. Lets just be real here Nether party is for the people…..They are for themselves & who lines their pocketbooks to keep them elected or during election years. Net Neutrality was an issue talked about during the previous administration & could have came to a head before 2008 but didn’t for some apparent reason.

  • ShirtlessKirk

    “In some regards you can sympathize with with the Internet Service Providers who have to deliver exponentially more bandwidth than in years past.”

    No, I really can’t. Why should I sympathise with ISPs who go out of their way to not increase the available bandwidth to the consumer from their obscene profits that they hide in tax havens?

    • robjackson81

      It’s still an accurate statement. In some regards… just not in your regards :)

      I agree with you but I think we would need to see a lot more of the MATH behind this… which of course we’ll never have the benefit of seeing because otherwise it’d likely support our criticisms.

      • Max

        You realize usa ISP’s make more profit and charge more per mbps than any other industrialized country and provide lower speeds than most. Yes…youtube/netflix may be reducing their obscene profit margin while they build out fiber in the short to midterm, but once fiber is built out, its fully upgradeable, all you do is swap out the ends on existing fiber lines and 1gbps becomes 10 and 10 will become 100gbps lines. Its a false problem. Meanwhile 4% of usa still runs DIAL UP, because ISPs refuse to run lines to unprofitable rural areas, unless the federal government guarantees them a subsidy and a monopoly to make a profit. ISPs want to be one of the most profitable industries in the country, have monopolies, and force consumers to pay capital costs to eliminate any risk.

      • mcl630

        The profit margins for most US cable and DSL providers are huge. Comcast, TW, Verizon, AT&T, etc could do a lot more to improve their networks without charging Netflix and company for decent speeds.

    • scoter man1

      Yeah, agreed. Comcast tried to raise our bill 30% this year. We had none of that bullspit. They’re the only internet provider in my area that offers 20+Mbps.

    • Dillon Shepherd

      Looks like the big ISPs are pulling the puppet strings behind the curtain… When I pay my ISP for X/mbps, I expect somewhere near that speed… regardless of where the data is coming from.

      This is just evil…

  • Jay Kresge

    I’m impressed. I saw the author and assumed this would be another poorly written/researched article, but Rob actually hits most of the necessary points.

    • irishrally

      That’s a back handed compliment if I have ever heard one.

      • Jay Kresge

        It was intended to be. But to be fair, he’s an intelligent person. I lose all hope when a person is unintelligent, and not smart enough to be aware of it. Rob knows when he posts a dud, as he quickly posts it and abandons it (they probably pay here based on number of articles written, as that’s how it was when I wrote for ABI). When his article is decent or he wants to champion the cause, Rob will actually interact with his readers (see comments below mine).
        But yea, he’s had a slump recently. Some of his articles lately weren’t very impressive. Examples are the camera blur comparison (didn’t know how to use the Google camera software, so chose to just use stock settings and make factually inaccurate statements), or the article on the OnePlus One size (didn’t understand why ire was directed when OnePlus made a clear attempt to mislead consumers before the formal announcement).

        • sdrawkcab25

          Rob owns this site and Neverstill media…he pays himself

          • Jay Kresge

            If he’s the owner then I would suggest that he let the writers write, or that he hire a fact checker for his articles.

          • lolwut

            I would suggest that you start your own site. I mean, I would love to read something written by somone that knows LITERALLY EVERYTHING. It will be an overnight sensation.

        • lolwut

          I think I speak for all Phandroid readers when I say that we are thrilled that you came here to enlighten us with your superior intellect and literary critique abilities. You’re clearly the only one qualified to judge Rob’s intellect accurately, given your genius. I think it’s nice that you decided “to be fair” and let us all know that “he’s an intelligent person.”

    • Durin123

      I don’t need research to back up the following: You’re self-righteous and arrogant.

      • Jay Kresge

        Probably. I prefer journalistic integrity. What he did in the camera blur article showed a complete lack of journalistic integrity. “I didn’t bother testing this feature, so I’m simply going to falsely state that the app doesn’t have the feature. HTC One M8 fo lyfe!”
        He’s an HTC fanboy. We get it. No shame in liking one brand over another. But to make false statements about competing products? From the pulpit that he has? And it was flat out intentional. He was alerted to the error when it was first assumed to be a harmless mistake. He didn’t correct it. He’s basically astroturfing for HTC at this point.

  • Phaz0n

    Would this be considered as bad if they promised you a certain speed, such as 12mb/sec, and then ALSO opened up stable “fast lanes” for more bandwidth intensive websites?

    • tagno25

      They almost never guarantee you 12mbps, but they claim “upto 12mbps”. So the maximum you can get is 12mbps, but you may get significantly less.

    • WickedToby741

      The upside of this is that your internet fees will stay low (or that’s what your ISP will tell you, but really they’ll charge you whatever they want anyways). The downside is that the competitive environment of the internet gets destroyed. Like Netflix or Spotify? There’s a decent chance that were these rumored policies in effect when they started out, they probably wouldn’t be around. Same goes for Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and countless others.

      By allowing companies to pay for “fast lanes”, you’re essentially shutting out smaller startups that can’t afford to pay the toll. Bigger companies will mimic the strategy of the innovative startup, pay the toll, undercut the innovative startup on price while promising better performance, and simply wait for the startup company to go bankrupt and then go back to their old ways.

      Capitalism works because of competition. These tolls are not in the spirit of competition and will in effect artificially limit the chances of innovative startups being successful. They serve as an additional barrier to entry that will keep big companies big and lock out smaller, more innovative companies. And without those smaller, innovative companies, the big companies will have little incentive to innovate themselves. Why spend money on R&D when you can sit back and get fat on profits?

      Supporters of these internet fast lanes will tell you it’s all kittens and ponies and it just means better performance for you without having to pay more, but don’t believe a word of it. Unless you prefer your internet services to be determined by who writes the biggest check, you’re going to want to oppose this.

    • uniquename72

      No, because of the precedent. It’s not hard to see how a “fast lane” could lead to various packages where you pay $25 for Amazon/Netflix/Google, $50 per month for second-tier sites, and another $100 for the entire internet.

      At that point, your ISP is dictating what sites you get to visit based on which sites give them the most money.

      A “fast lane” is only the very top of a slippery slope where the internet ceases to be a place where anyone can have a site that reaches everyone.

  • tagno25

    I cannot sympathize for the big ISPs, as a small ISP we only pay $1500 a month per 1Gbps. There is NO way that the large ISPs are paying more than $10,000 per month per 10Gbps.

    Assuming ~0.25% of a $50 account goes to bandwidth that would be 800 users on a single 10Gbps. Each user would get a guaranteed 12.5Mbps (both up and down). That would leave $30,000 each month for salaries, insurance, electricity, upgrades, taxes, and more. That is assuming that the ISP only has 800 customers, if they had more like 8,000+ customers, and they were not guaranteeing speeds, but having “upto” at a 10 to one ratio, then they would have a gross of $400,000 and after bandwidth cost still have 390,000 for everything else.

    • lolwut

      Bro just because you got a NOC job somewhere doesn’t mean you know about how peering arrangements and transport, etc. are billed. This is an oversimplification.

      I have a 1gbit circuit to my house, and my carrier only charges $65.99 a month, that doesn’t mean that I can push 1gbit constantly or run BGP or OSPF here at home (I mean I guess I could with a GRE tunnel, but I digress).

      Now if I had an OC-24 at my house (assuming I could get a carrier to run that kind of fiber to my home or somehow get me into the metro fiber ring), that price would go up considerably. So it’s reasonable to think that yes, big ISPs are paying big money for their backbones and datacenters (electricity, diesel, cooling, maintenance) to keep that all up and running.

      Now what they are doing here IS WRONG and is bad for consumers, but you’ve really oversimplified something here and maybe don’t have all the facts?

  • WickedToby741

    I understand that the likes of Comcast, Verizon, TWC, AT&T, and friend have huge lobbying powers, but I find it hard to believe that they can overpower those companies that have a vested interest in seeing net neutrality not get neutered (clever, I know), namely Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, Netflix, Spotify, and others. Where’s the support from the other side of the aisle? Consumer support is great, but why haven’t we seen these companies band together and come out against this similar to how we saw them band together and come out against the NSA?

    • Max

      To be fair a lot of those companies have spent some serious lobby $ fighting the good fight. Google in particular tends to try to stay low key with their lobbying strategy, since they are terrified of upsetting congress and having them come after them on privacy concerns or monopoly concerns (sometimes i think google must be rooting for bing to stay alive just to keep them out of legal trouble.)..

      • WickedToby741

        But why not something more public and coordinated? I realize that isolated, these companies also spend a ton in lobbying, but why not form some sort of net neutrality alliance and come out very publicly in favor of net neutrality? Because, let’s be honest, a petition started by Phandroid is not going to grab the attention of 99.99% of the people this will affect. It would however get people’s attention if there was a reaction like there was to SOPA where some of consumers’ favorite sites publicly came out against SOPA. Where is the reaction we had to SOPA and to the NSA? Why is this debate not more public?

    • uniquename72

      This isn’t hard to figure out. The FCC is owned by telecoms. No amount of lobying is going to change that. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/washingtons-revolving-door-cellular-lobby-and-fcc-have-traded-leaders/

  • mkail

    It’s probably too late now since Netflix went and paid Comcast their ransom money, but I was surprised there was no class action lawsuit. I’ve read the Comcast policy documents and it doesn’t mention Netflix anywhere, of course, it only mentions sources of high traffic (the users and not the content providers). I’ve also never heard of bad Hulu service on Comcast (which they own part of) so they’re singling out a single service and a competitor no less. It would be kind of like Verizon delaying the receipt of SMS messages that come from other carriers to “apply filtering for unsolicited messages”. Or what if a taxi company was owned by United Airlines and they intentionally drove slower (racking up a higher fare) if you were going to the Greyhound station? I think these things are a blatant misuse of power and terms of service.

    • Max

      Now that you mention it, my hulu works terrible on my 18mbps uverse serivce, even though netflix works perfect at super hd1080p.

    • WickedToby741

      I think The Verge said it best: the internet is a utility, it’s time to treat it like one. Cable companies are allowed monopolies like utilities and in this day and age internet is practically required. You wouldn’t expect your electricity to differ because you chose a Samsung TV over an LG one or your water to differ because you went with a Maytag washer over a Whirlpool, so why is it suddenly okay if we allow ISPs, our internet utility providers, to say that Netflix gets faster speeds than Hulu because they paid the toll?

  • Ken Donahue

    I love the use of “fast lane” to describe the throttling of data. It’s a zero sum game.

  • Brad Hutchings

    “The government is supporting a law…” <— WTF does this even mean? Anyone ever take a civics class?!?

    • godrilla

      Internet providers are paying them billions by probably going like this we can make billions on this you can have half lol. No but seriously these are sad times.
      They have deep pockets for lobbying.
      The tax revenue will be also probably favor the government’s bigger peace of the pie!

  • http://www.howdohound.com HowDoHound

    No one actually believes that the companies that pay for the” fast lane” (for example, Netflix) won’t eventually pass that cost along to the consumers, right?

    Put another way: No matter what, the consumer loses… It’s just a matter of how many ways we lose.

    • FknTwizted

      And you wonder why Netflix is bumping their price up yet again.

  • Marsg

    Fricken mafia tactics

  • godrilla

    Partial solution is to run a vpn.
    Internet service providers have deep pockets for lobbying.
    The tax revenue will be also probably favor the government’s bigger peace of the pie!