Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The FCC has never defended Net Neutrality

This op-ed by a "net neutrality expert" claims the FCC has always defended "net neutrality". It's garbage.

This wrong on its face. It imagines decades ago that the FCC inshrined some plaque on the wall stating principles that subsequent FCC commissioners have diligently followed. The opposite is true. FCC commissioners are a chaotic bunch, with different interests, influenced (i.e. "lobbied" or "bribed") by different telecommunications/Internet companies. Rather than following a principle, their Internet regulatory actions have been ad hoc and arbitrary -- for decades.

Sure, you can cherry pick some of those regulatory actions as fitting a "net neutrality" narrative, but most actions don't fit that narrative, and there have been gross net neutrality violations that the FCC has ignored.

There are gross violations going on right now that the FCC is allowing. Most egregiously is the "zero-rating" of video traffic on T-Mobile. This is a clear violation of the principles of net neutrality, yet the FCC is allowing it -- despite official "net neutrality" rules in place.

The op-ed above claims that "this [net neutrality] principle was built into the architecture of the Internet". The opposite is true. Traffic discrimination was built into the architecture since the beginning. If you don't believe me, read RFC 791 and the "precedence" field.

More concretely, from the beginning of the Internet as we know it (the 1990s), CDNs (content delivery networks) have provided a fast-lane for customers willing to pay for it. These CDNs are so important that the Internet wouldn't work without them.

I just traced the route of my CNN live stream. It comes from a server 5 miles away, instead of CNN's headquarters 2500 miles away. That server is located inside Comcast's network, because CNN pays Comcast a lot of money to get a fast-lane to Comcast's customers.

The reason these egregious net net violations exist is because it's in the interests of customers. Moving content closer to customers helps. Re-prioritizing (and charging less for) high-bandwidth video over cell networks helps customers.

You might say it's okay that the FCC bends net neutrality rules when it benefits consumers, but that's garbage. Net neutrality claims these principles are sacred and should never be violated. Obviously, that's not true -- they should be violated when it benefits consumers. This means what net neutrality is really saying is that ISPs can't be trusted to allows act to benefit consumers, and therefore need government oversight. Well, if that's your principle, then what you are really saying is that you are a left-winger, not that you believe in net neutrality.

Anyway, my point is that the above op-ed cherry picks a few data points in order to build a narrative that the FCC has always regulated net neutrality. A larger view is that the FCC has never defended this on principle, and is indeed, not defending it right now, even with "net neutrality" rules officially in place.

1 comment:

Joe said...

It's a very good argument that businesses already pay a premium for a fast lane - like your cnn example. Somewhat similarly, I work for a business where we have servers all over the world so our clients can ask get a good experience. I'm profoundly comfortable with this because when we pay money for those servers, we are paying for actual hardware. When cnn pay money to comcast in your example, they're paying for a CDN. Isn't the worry that without sufficient regulations, ISPs could charge for a fast lane which isn't based on paying to use networks or hardware, but just prioritising certain traffic? Or what about (and I know this sounds a bit far fetched) paying money to have traffic to a competitor arbitrarily slowed down?