Don’t Gut Net Neutrality

By Wayne Caswell, Vice Chairman, Alliance of Progressive Voters

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to gut Net Neutrality consumer protections and kill open Internet competition as a result. That’s not surprising since he formerly worked as an attorney for Verizon Communications, but there are many issues that are not well understood, and not being discussed.

I am so bothered by this that I sent personal notes to the five FCC Commissioners, shared my Net Neutrality perspectives, and urge them NOT to gut Net Neutrality. Here’s what I said.

CLARIFICATION – Net Neutrality is NOT about treating high-bandwidth apps (online gaming & video streaming) the same as low-bandwidth apps (sensor monitoring and email traffic), because that makes perfect sense. A life-saving medical alert only consumers about 100 characters, while streaming a movie consumes dozens of gigabytes. No, Net is about protecting consumers and fair competition by treating similar traffic the same (Yahoo! search results & videos versus Google results and YouTube).

ISSUE #1 – NETWORK UTILITY. Internet access has become central to our Economy, supporting eCommerce, eBanking, Telehealth, Telework, Distance Learning, and even National Security. Because of its importance, broadband infrastructure should be highly regulated as a strategic national asset, like a utility. The Internet should NOT be controlled by a few grateful oligarchs with monopoly power and little regulatory oversight or used as a political weapon. The Republican FCC instead wants to deregulate the Internet, likely because doing that helps President Trump control the media and increase his power.

ISSUE #2 – COMPETITION. Broadband carriers should not be allowed to leverage monopoly control of networks to gain competitive advantages in apps and content, including streaming video and music services. These companies can choose the business they are in — either providing network operations in a highly regulated environment, or competing freely in unregulated markets for apps and content — but they should not be allowed to do both.

ISSUE #3 – FREE SPEECH. Without Net Neutrality protections, broadband providers will be able to use deep packet inspection, throttling, and filtering to determine winners and losers, what news and facts we see, and what voice we have in protest. This danger, combined with an earlier FCC ruling that allows media companies to gain monopoly control of all media (TV, radio and print) in any city, poses a severe threat to truth, free speech, and our democratic process.

ISSUE #4 – DEMOCRACY. Our national heritage and democracy is under attack when a small number of unelected officials, appointed by an authoritarian President, are allowed to control the networks that govern our economy for political purposes while strengthening the monopoly power of multinational corporations and the oligarchs who run them.

ISSUE #5 – BIG BROADBAND. “BIG Broadband: Public Infrastructure or Private Monopolies” is a white paper I wrote over 10 years ago for consumer advocates and policy makers. It’s still relevant today and contrasts the different incentives of incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), cable television (CATV) companies, municipalities and other stakeholders. It suggests that the capital expense of extending fiber closer to premises is high enough to cause ILECs to cherrypick the most profitable customers in greenfield installations, leaving others to fend for themselves. That’s where public broadband comes in.

ISSUE #6 – FIBER-OPTICS. My related presentation, “BIG Broadband and Gigabit to the Home,” gives examples of high-bandwidth apps that can’t even be created without the fast networks already in place. I developed the slides to promote gigabit networks when other network visionaries were still calling for a national broadband strategy of just 100Mbps. Anyone who ever took Queuing Theory in college remembers the “turnpike effect,” where billions are spent on new highway infrastructure, but as soon as the highway opens it is already congested. That’s what I see with the short-term vision of today’s broadband providers, largely because of the lack of effective competition.

ISSUE #7 – HEALTHCARE. As founding editor of Modern Health Talk, I write about healthcare policy and the role of technologies like telehealth in defining a preferred healthcare future that’s driven by Moore’s Law and the exponentially accelerating pace of tech innovation. In that capacity I responded to an FCC call for comments about their Broadband Health Imperative. (My submitted comments are highlighted.)

MY PERSPECTIVE – As a retired IBM technologist, digital home consultant, and consumer advocate, I once served on the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee and participated in three working groups there: Advanced Technologies, Homeland Security, and Rural & Underserved Communities. I traveled from Austin to D.C. several times a year on my own dime for this unpaid position and was subjected to intense scrutiny to be sure there were no conflicts of interest. I was forced to resign that volunteer FCC position when I later decided to give up my consulting job for a market strategy position at Dell. While at IBM in the early 1990s, I responded to an RFP by the City of Austin for citywide fiber, but AT&T got a state law passed to prevent public ownership of fiber. We lost that battle but won the next one years later when AT&T tried to extend their public fiber ban to include Wi-Fi too. They wanted to prevent municipalities from offering free wireless networks, but a small grass roots movement that I worked with gained enough public attention to defeat their legislation proposal.

About the Author

Wayne Caswell lives in Frisco Lakes in the same Del Webb community as Ramona and has worked closely with her as Vice Chairman for the Democratic group she founded just over a year ago. He’s a retired IBM technologist, market strategist, futurist, and founding editor of Modern Health Talk.

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When The FCC Kills Net Neutrality, Here’s What Your Internet Could Look Like (Forbes)

FCC net neutrality process ‘corrupted’ by fake comments and vanishing consumer complaints, officials say (Washington Post)