Should You Care About Net Neutrality?

Category: Networking

Several readers have contacted me for my take on the Net Neutrality debate, which is currently being considered by the Federal Communications Commission. I've read opinions both in favor of, and in opposition to, the repeal of Net Neutrality rules. Some of them made good arguments for their side, and some of them sounded unbalanced, or overblown. But a friend of mine has written an opinion on Net Neutrality that is thoughtful and deserves your consideration. Please read on...

We The People Must Save Net Neutrality

Hi, my name is David Hakala. The elder geeks among you may remember me from the pages of Boardwatch Magazine, where I held the thankless title of "Editor At Fault." I had the pleasant, easy job of "editing" Bob Rankin's articles, and gratefully signing vouchers for his meager paychecks. It's been a privilege to be his friend for nearly 25 years. I thank Bob for this opportunity to address my fellow Netizens on a matter of supreme importance: the threat to the Internet's freedom to serve each of us.

I have watched the Internet grow much like a human being, from a hidden embryo of mysterious potential into a strong, vital giant that has changed the entire world, for better and for worse. Of all the things that have made the Internet great, its freedom has always been most potent.

Regulation and monopolistic power have been kept at bay, for the most part, often with the ferocious defense of Internet users like you. New ideas, technologies, and business plans blossom online like the wildflowers that carpet alpine meadows each Spring. Many have withered and died, but many others have become household words upon which millions depend for their communications, entertainment, education, work, and literally life-saving goods or services.

net neutrality

The Internet's freedom is under attack right now, by the very people who are charged by law to preserve and protect it. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and his Republican cronies are dead set on enacting his Orwellian-named "Restoring Internet Freedom" order, which would roll back an Obama-era rule that declared ISPs to be "public utilities" subject to strict "common carrier" regulation.

What that mean, in essence, is that an ISP cannot refuse to carry Internet traffic from any source that is operating within the law, and it cannot give any services (including its own) faster transmission of their data to and from end users. An ISP that sells access to on-demand movies, for instance, cannot block or slow down Netflix to gain competitive advantage, and it cannot accept bribes from Hulu to get faster, better-quality streaming service than its competitors. This is the principle known as "Net Neutrality," the notion that ISPs may not manipulate Internet traffic to their advantage.

Should Internet Service Providers Be Regulated Like Public Utilties?

The "common carrier" principle is not an unusual, burdensome regulation. Your electric utility cannot refuse or limit juice to a solar energy competitor, nor can a water utility refuse H20 to a water conservation developer. It's just common sense that a monopoly - which most ISPs are, in their respective markets - should not be allowed to shut out or hinder potential competitors.

But Pai's proposed order would throw Net Neutrality out the window. The FCC - that's the Federal COMMUNICATIONS Commission - would wash its hands of regulating monopolistic COMMUNICATIONS companies! Instead, the order would transfer responsiblity for protecting Internet users to the Federal Trade Commission, which lacks the technical expertise and raw manpower to handle complaints about ISPs.

If you think that ISPs won't manipulate the Internet to their profit and our loss, please look at the evidence; they already have, multiple times, in sneaky and outrageous ways. North Carolina ISP Madison River Communications blocked VoiP service provider Vonage. Comcast blocked peer-to-peer file sharing services, without regard to the legality of said services. Canadian ISP Telus blocked access to a site that supported a labor strike against the company, in such a ham-fisted manner that it also blocked 766 totally unrelated sites. AT&T forced Apple to block Skype, blocked Google Voice, disabled Facebook Live to force customers to use its more expensive live-streaming app, and much more. The list of ISPs' anti-competitive incidents is long and sordid.

If Pai's order takes effect, the FCC will be left with only one weak disclosure requirement it can impose upon ISPs. If Verizon, for instance, wants to block Netflix, throttle the delivery speed of CNN, or accept bribes from companies for faster access to consumers, all it will have to do is include notice of its dirty dealings in the fine print legalese that no one can read.

Americans overwhelmingly reject Pai's assault on Internet freedom. During the public comment period on his proposed rule, a record 22 million comments were received via the FCC's site. Comments came so fast that the FCC's server could not handle the traffic. But there was something fishy about many of the comments made in support of the proposed rule.

An analysis of those comments by data analytics company Gravwell found that more than 80% of the comments were posted by bots, not human beings. Someone was stuffing the ballot box heavily with fake comments from fake people.

It is even more sinister to learn that many comments that opposed keeping the Net Neutrality rule used the names and contact information of real people who, when contacted, said they never left any such comments; the majority of these victims favored keeping the rule.
Proponents of Pai's order engaged in large-scale identity theft to corrupt the FCC's public commenting system. Of the 17.4% of comments that were deemed authentic, the overwhelming majority favored keeping the Obama-era Net Neutrality rule. By "overwhelming," I mean tens of thousands in favor, a few hundred opposed.

But Pai and his henchmen are blithely dismissing public opinion as "just opinions." The murder of Net Neutrality will happen when the FCC votes on December 14 to officially adopt Pai's disastrous rule. There is no point in telling the FCC anything. The Commission is controlled by corporate sock puppets who are bent on giving ISPs license to control what you see and do on the Internet. Only two of the five Commissioners are opposed to Pai's rule: Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, both Democrats.

Commissioner Clyburn recently published a fact sheet that debunks Pai's arguments in favor of scrapping Net Neutrality. She says, "It eliminates all prohibitions against blocking and throttling (slowing down) applications by broadband providers, and enables them to engage in paid prioritization and unreasonable discrimination at the point of interconnection. It ignores thousands of consumer complaints and millions of individual comments that ask the FCC to save net neutrality and uphold the principles that all traffic should be created equal."

Congress Can Trump the FCC

Only Congress can order the FCC to keep Net Neutrality rules in place. While it's obvious that big-money donors have enormous power over our dully (sic) elected lawmakers, the bottom line is that Congresscritters want to be re-elected. That means they do listen when voters get angry enough to light a fire under them.

I urge all of you to let your representatives know how you feel about Net Neutrality. The best tool I have found for doing so is called ResistBot. It is a tool that will help you compose a letter to your Senators and/or Representatives, and send it to them via fax. The folks at have five more ways to call, write, and/or email your representatives.

Please, do it now. Do not let despair and cynicism keep you out of the battle to preserve Net Neutrality. This is one battle that we, the People, must win. Thanks for your attention and action.

The FCC will vote on this issue December 14th. I encourage you make an informed decision regarding Net Neutrality, and make your voice heard. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below. -- Bob

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Geekly Update - 05 December 2017

Most recent comments on "Should You Care About Net Neutrality?"

(See all 34 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
05 Dec 2017

First of all, the hysteria by "net neutrality" supporters is way overblown. Rolling back the current regulations to what existed just two and a half years ago is not going to mean the end of the world; it's not suddenly going to destroy freedom on the Internet. My natural inclination when people scream that the sky is falling is to conjecture that the problem lies more with those screamers than with the sky.

As a general principle I prefer to keep the government out of regulating the Internet. I don't consider it a public utility in which ISPs need to be treated as common carriers. The reason it has been so successful to date, with so much innovation and explosive growth, has been that government has mostly stayed out of the way. The idea that more government involvement has now become imperative seems highly counterintuitive and runs counter to historical experience.

My prediction is that when the net neutrality regs are overturned by the FCC, very few if any of the horrible consequences envisioned by the FCC's detractors will actually come to pass. Life will go on normally, and the Internet will continue to prosper to everyone's benefit.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

Hello to Yank1967:

You have a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. Net Neutrality has nothing to do with forcing ISP's to allow all customers to have the same Internet speeds. Let's use your analogy to driving: Consider the ISP's to be like highway authorities, who control the ONLY viable method for your Interstate travel needs. Now suppose that a new "deregulation" ruling would allow them to sell the two fastest lanes to a few large trucking companies for their exclusive use. Sure, your small company can still crowd its truck into the slow lanes with all the others who can't afford the real highway speed, but is this restrictive practice a "freedom" that the highway authority should be entitled to? Are you able (or even allowed) to build you own highway if you don't like theirs?

So nobody is saying home customers should be entitled to upload & download speeds that they are not willing to pay for. This is about protecting small businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, and anyone trying to achieve the American dream from being squashed by those who already "got there" and are now trying to slam the door shut on any competition. So true conservatives out there (and we're not talking about those in the media who shill for their ISP partners)...whose side are you on?

Please don't fall for this being painted as an example of government trying to control every aspect of your life and your Internet. In this case, it's the opposite: The Internet currently does operate with the freedom you say you want, and the government has pretty much done nothing to change that. Net Neutrality rules were the first effort to insure it stays that way. But this new ruling would now deliberately take that away from you and those businesses YOU choose to deal with online. Instead, it would leave control in the hands of the biggest powers of all: the companies that treat you as their products. Unlike the government, you can never vote them out of office.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

Bob, the use of terms like, "Republican cronies", and "henchmen", are definitely not unbiased. My take is that, like what you said, everyone's argument seems valid. What we really need is for someone to present the pros and cons put forth by both sides of the issue. Unfortunately, Dec-19 is only two weeks away, and the FCC is going to rule on this regardless of what the people say.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

I see that Net Neutrality has become a Democrat versus Republican issue - In other words politics as usual.

If, the FCC truly is going back to the rules that were enforced about 2 or more like 3 years ago - Let's do it. I don't see any real improvement today, but I do see that the US Government has more of it's fingers in the pie! I really don't see why the FCC even exists. Not one person on the FCC really understands the whole picture any more than most of us. Forget Congress, most of them can't even find their way out of DC, yet alone know what is best for the Internet.

Yes, bribes, corruption, and lots of bad things happen on the Internet, but all of that happens in other fields, too. Medicine is one of the biggest fraudulent users of Medicare and has been for decades, plus there have been kickbacks to the tune of billions of dollars. The car industry has been mentioned, heavens the prices of cars has gone up at least 1000% or possibly 10,000% since the 1960's. Government has intervened throughout those many years and do we really have any safer cars than we did in the 1960's??? I don't think so. Yes, they are more fancy filled with all the technological stuff inside of them, but are they really safer? People still die in car accidents and always will.

Free capitalism is what made this country and to go where where it looks like now, socialism, this isn't what we fought valiantly for freedom. This not what I want to see for the USA in the future. I'm 74 and maybe have about 15 years or so left, if I am lucky - But what I see going on in my country today scares the holy out of me. I want my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to see the USA like I saw it growing up. Yes, the American Dream that had come true, for millions of individuals.

Posted by:

Riccardo Capuano
05 Dec 2017

I'm so glad I don't live in Trump's USA.

Posted by:

David Hakala
05 Dec 2017

The commenters who espouse libertarian delusions of "rugged individualism" are living in a fantasy world where Gandalf faced down a gigantic demon and legion of orcs, and where a single brave archer slew Smaug the dragon. I note that several of them are so divorced from reality they don't even realize that I, not Bob, wrote this op-ed.

That myth of "rugged individualism," BTW, was concocted by millionaire robber barons as the ultimate "divide and conquer" tactic. No one who has ever been in a serious dispute with a corporation can credibly claim to have won all by himself.

If you fear your government, you voted for the wrong people. It's as simple as that. Learn, and choose more wisely next time. If you trust only yourself, then run for office yourself. But don't expect me or many others to vote for such paranoia.

Posted by:

Mark Milligan
05 Dec 2017

> ...a friend of mine has written an opinion on Net Neutrality that is thoughtful and deserves your consideration.

C'mon Bob. You call this socialist rant "thoughtful"? You're better than that.

I really was hoping for a piece that was informative and thoughtful...but I didn't get it here. By posting this piece you've done nothing to un-muddy the water surrounding this issue. But I don't know if anyone can, because opinions on this all seem based on "what we think", not what we know. (I'm talking about all of us.) There's little real, hard, analytical data available with which to form a rational opinion.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

Bob, your friend's opinion contains too much partisanship and too little informativeness to
be convincing for someone interested in learning

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

People, the only reason you have freedom is because it is mandated in the Constitution : GOVERNMENT. The role of government in this case, and as implied in at least a couple of proceeding comments, is not regulation, but guaranteeing freedom. The freedom to visit the websites you want to visit, without interference. That is what Net Neutrality means.

Posted by:

Louis Tonucci
05 Dec 2017

The collectivist author of this rant believes it is “Orwellian” to think that lessening regulation of the Internet would mean an increase in freedom. Or that more government regulation means less freedom. But this is a self-evident proposition to those of us who do not believe that “Freedom is Slavery”.

It is unlikely that net neutrality will lead to the restriction that customers will have to lease computers and cell phones from ISPs as was the case with telephones when the FCC regulated telephone service as a public utility. But the point is that the commission would have the authority to order that, along with any other bit of mischief they could think of. And there has been a 5 to 7% decline in Internet investment since the new rule was imposed, which means less innovation, the hallmark of the web.

For those concerned about the undue influence of evil big business, I would like to point out that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and Snapchat, among others, all favor keeping “net neutrality”.

I do not know why there are not more choices in choosing an internet provider. But I suspect it’s one or more of the usual suspects, government regulation at the Federal, state, or local level, that restricts competition. Increasing competitiveness is the proper palliative to any oligopolistic abuses of ISPs.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

A key point the Anti-Net Neutrality people seem to miss and the ISPs want you to forget: Net Neutrality is *not* about "Regulating the Internet." Net Neutrality *is* about regulating the Internet Service Providers.

It is the ISPs that are fighting against Net Neutrality regulations. Content providers (those that are not already wholly-owned by ISPs) are for Net Neutrality so that they have a fair market against those ISP-owned assets.

If ISPs only just provided access to "the Internet" we would not have a problem. But ISPs have a vested stake in some Internet services and want to promote those services to the degradation of non-owned services. Thus Comcast will push NBC they own it; and will make others harder to access, slower or otherwise less desirable because they don’t. And if they say they will never do that, they lie – otherwise they would not be fighting against Net Neutrality so much.

Keep the Internet Free – don’t let Internet Service Providers decide what you get to see and how you get to see it.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

I've written to my Senators and Congresswoman. I received responses from 2. Sen. Thom Tillis of NC is in favor of repealing Net Neutrality. Congresswoman Alma Adams is for keeping things as they are. Sen. Richard Burr did not reply, I'm guessing because he's most likely in favor of the repeal.

The sad thing about this and other current issues under attack by the federal government is that no matter how many people voice their opinions, the politicians will do whatever they want.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2017

There's pros and cons on both sides of "net neutrality". I had hopes that your friends "thoughtful" opinion would give a balanced unbiased discussion of both sides. That said, the writer lost me when he said, "Republican cronies". Wow. No need to even read the rest of the opinion. I've just been slammed at the start of the op-ed. Along, perhaps, with most other Republicans.

Posted by:

Tom Curtin
05 Dec 2017

Bob: You need a friend that understands economics. Using net "neutrality" logic we would all be using the same laptop, wearing the same sneakers and all driving a Ford Focus.

I would rather comparison shop and spend my money on what I want, rather than what the government says I should "need."

Posted by:

Sarah L
05 Dec 2017

Mme Moxie, please look up your data on highway & auto safety before claiming no change since the 1960s. Fatalities are down by rate and in total even as miles driven rose. Seatbelts, air bags and improved vehicle design lower the consequences of a collision. Roadways are safer as well. Local, state & federal government rules made those improvements happen. If you dislike government so, and I will suppose you dislike referees & umpires in sports as well, you will need to find a better example of its clear failure to make life better for people.

Posted by:

Ken Heikkila
06 Dec 2017

Bob, thanks for sharing your friend's letter. Excellent analysis. The only people scarier than the right-wing conservative christian fundamentalists are libertarians IMNSHO.

Posted by:

07 Dec 2017

Your thoughtful friend needs a little Logic 101. After praising the growth and innovation of the internet, all of which occurred before the Obama "net neutrality" rule, he then claims that a return to the pre-rule era would "murder" the internet and be "disastrous." Huh? How then did the internet flourish in that disastrous and murderous era?
I'm not inclined to give much weight to an analysis that consists of attacking the other side as "cronies" and "henchmen." And the net neutrality proponents don't just attack rhetorically -- have you read about the threats to Pai and his family? More reason to think that maybe they don't really have good arguments on their side.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

Riccardo, I'm also glad you don't live in the USA.

Posted by:

Clay Farrell
09 Dec 2017

Hi Bob. I must say I am sorely disappointed with this post. There are ways to express ones point, and there are WAYS. Radical left wing liberals, such as Mr. David Hakala, are every bit as annoying as radical right wing conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh. The very tone set of Mr Hakala's rant put every point he tried to make into question for me. I have valued your newsletters over the years, but, this fiasco here will make me question the validity of many of your articles. I read your newsletters for their objectivity, not for political bias. I can get that kind of bull from CNN.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2017

I would have to agree with the opinions that this would be better expressed more objectively. Name calling and labeling of those one opposes is counter productive. Divisive language is one that leads no where. I support Net Neutrality. Others don't. I respect their position and would rather debate and investigate than name call. perhaps we all need to read the book "All I needed to know I learned in kindergarten". Question, does name calling help or hinder? Hinder I think.

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