Net Neutrality explained

January 16, 2014 | By | 3 Replies More

At Public Citizen, Andrew D. Selbst explains the importance of Net Neutrality:

Common carrier regulations are a century-old concept that has been applied to telecom services from its early days. The concept originates from travel: If you are a bus operator, you must allow anyone with a ticket to board and ride. Applied to telephones, common carrier obligations are the reason that your phone company cannot first listen to your conversations, and then when you discuss switching carriers or call a competitor to sign up, kill your connection or make it so full of static that you cannot hear. If the idea of a telephone company doing that seem preposterous, it is only because common carrier obligations on telephones are so ingrained into our expectations. In terms of the internet, net neutrality simply requires that the ISPs treat each bit of data identically, and send it where it needs to go at the same rate of speed, regardless of its source (subject to legitimate network management concerns). Net neutrality merely regulates the “paved road,” and not the “cars,” in the old metaphor of the “information superhighway.” We would not expect the operators of the road to choose speeds that a car can travel, depending on where it comes from or who is in it.

Without net neutrality rules there is nothing stopping ISPs from simply blocking websites and media they don’t like because the websites and media compete with their offerings or haven’t specifically paid them off. This is not just a scary hypothetical. AT&T recently released a plan called “Sponsored Data” that works as follows: AT&T has already set an artificial data cap on its consumers (itself a policy design solely to extract the most profit out of them). Now, AT&T will allow a provider, like Netflix, pay them for the privilege to reach the user without affecting the user’s cap. Thus, other competing sites become comparatively more expensive since they will run through the user’s data limit. To take another example, Comcast and Time Warner both have online TV services, which allow customers to watch cable programming on their computers or mobile devices. The cable companies’ online TV services don’t count as data under their artificial caps either, so that the home-grown online TV service is preferable to Netflix, a competitor. Then as cable prices get ever higher, the ISPs can point to all the “free” new online TV services they’re offering as justification for higher prices.


Category: Net neutrality

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Ben says:

    The attached packet of talking points came directly from the cable industry.

    The metadata of the document shows it was created by Kerry Landon, the assistant director of industry grassroots at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group that lobbies on behalf of Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter, and other cable industry companies. The document was shared with House Republican leaders via “Broadband for America,” a nonprofit largely funded by the NCTA.

    “The FCC is wisely repealing the reckless decision of its predecessors to regulate competing internet service providers,” reads one of the document’s talking points. “We rightly protest when governments around the world seek to place political controls over the internet, and the same should apply here in America,” according to another.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Yes, good things will just spontaneously happen if we do nothing at all to intervene. But why do we have rulebooks and referees for sports games? Why do big successful corporations like Apple have reams of policies and procedures if regulations are per se a bad thing?

      The GOP position on net neutrality infuriates me, because the big quasi-monopolistic telecoms want to shake users down in their new role as content and application gatekeepers. It’s all about money, and restricting users ability to freely access the Internet is simply collateral damage.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    The GOP likes to claim they support “job creators.” In fact, they support only *yesterday’s* job creators: the companies that are big today because of past success. They do this at the expense of *tomorrow’s* job creators. Whether it is laws (like the above) that protect monopolies, oligopolies and conglomerates; laws that cut funding for public education or public healthcare; or laws that cut taxes for the rich (who have no incentive to innovate), Republicans main concern is to ossify the status quo. The “system” works for their supporters, and they want it to stay that way.

    However, most true economic growth comes from disruptive new businesses, often driven by new technologies, and usually invented by people in the lower rungs of the economic ladder. People with a vested interest in changing the status quo.

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