In support of net neutrality

I wrote a letter in support of net neutrality and Title II classification of Internet Service Providers to the FCC. For background on this FCC vote, you can read this Arstechnica explainer.

You can add your own comment in support of net neutrality to the FCC at the URL gofccyourself.org. To clarify some terms:

  • “net neutrality” is a term coined by Tim Wu (author of “The Master Switch” and “The Attention Merchants”) which describes a legal principle that “Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”
  • “title II” is a part of the Communications Act of 1934 that establishes that certain forms of communication infrastructure are “common carriers”, which means that in delivering Internet service, the ISPs “cannot discriminate [content/services], that is refuse the service unless there is some compelling reason.”

It should be noted that the fact-based arguments in support of net neutrality are widespread. Fact-based arguments against net neutrality are much harder to find. Even the FCC commissioner himself presents a hand-wavy argument that amounts to “money GOOD, regulation BAD”.

There are many documented historical cases of ISPs abusing their position to block content/services. The classification of ISPs as Title II common carriers stopped these abuses in their tracks and upheld net neutrality for consumers without introducing an onerous level of regulation on ISPs. By the way, ISPs were, and continue to be, wildly profitable enterprises. Verizon, to take just one example, had a 2016 annual profit of $13 billion on $125 billion of annual revenue. This is one year after being classified as a Title II common carrier. Holding ISPs to the standard that they don’t discriminate in the content/services they deliver over their data pipes is the least we could ask of these companies, as far as regulation goes.

Here’s the comment I wrote to the FCC in its entirety. Please go write your own.

I’m the co-founder and CTO of a technology company, Parse.ly, which has raised over $6m in venture capital, employs over 50 people, and works with over 250 major digital Internet companies as customers. As an Internet user and Internet entrepreneur since 1998, I strongly support net neutrality, and I’m strongly against the reclassification of ISPs away from Title II rules.

I understand your office’s perspective that a “light-touch regulatory framework” is often preferable, but I think what your office ignores is that ISPs — and especially wired ISPs that power the Internet in so many homes across the country — have tended toward local monopoly and consolidation over the last several years. In my local area of Charlottesville, VA, there is essentially only one choice for broadband Internet at the moment — Comcast. And Comcast runs several competing services to Internet services I rely upon every day — for example, its Xfinity division competes directly with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and YouTube. It is not a “hypothetical” scenario for Comcast to slow down access to these Internet services and speed up access to its own services: it’s a guarantee of their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. Why would Comcast not use that as a competitive advantage in the context of Xfinity?

Net neutrality rules are partially about the level playing field among Internet giants, ISPs, and media companies, but they are also partially about allowing young startups an equal chance to disrupt legacy incumbents — a mainstay of the Internet for many years. YouTube was once a startup itself before Google acquired it — but the next-generation YouTube would not be able to launch if it started its life at a speed disadvantage vs other streaming services.

Finally, a comment about blocking of content and services. FCC commissioner Pai has said, “there wasn’t a rash of Internet service providers blocking customers from accessing the content, applications, or services of their choice.” This is simply untrue. Even I personally experienced AT&T blocking Skype (because it competed with AT&T’s own data network) and Verizon blocking several mobile hotspot apps (because it competed with their own mobile hotspot devices which were sold separately and with separate 4G wireless plans). These aren’t hypothetical. They are historical facts. And they are just the tip of the iceberg.

I urge the FCC to support Internet startups and classify ISPs appropriately as Title II common carriers to preserve net neutrality for this generation and the future generations of Internet entrepreneurs.

Posted to FCC.gov’s comment section

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