No More Net Neutrality?


Teh Internets!

Earlier this week, Google, long one of the most vocal proponents of Net neutrality, and Verizon, one of Net neutrality's most active opponents, announced that they had come to a broad mutual understanding about how they believe the rules and regulations governing web traffic ought to be structured. In a joint statement, the companies outlined seven key elements, which you can read here.  But the gist is that both agree that blocking content outright on wireline Net connections should be off limits, but prioritized services should be allowed, and neutrality rules ought not apply to wireless networks.

Their proposal would codify and clarify the FCC's power to enforce non-discrimination rules on wireline networks, ensuring that the power the FCC attempted to exercise in its recent case against Comcast would be enforceable. But the boost to the FCC's power would be limited; if the proposed framework were to be adopted, the agency would have far less authority than under the change in broadband's regulatory classification that the agency  has sought in recent months.

Would this mean the end of the Internet as we know it? Neutrality advocates are certainly pushing an apocalyptic vision. In yesterday's New York Times, Tim Wu, who originally coined the term Net neutrality, warned that if the proposal were to be adopted, non-commercial sites like Wikipedia would "get slower and harder to use." In the same space, Larry Lessig complained that the White House is pushing the FCC to be cautious in making Net neutrality policy and likened its cautious approach to the deregulation of Wall Street.

I wonder, though, how a proposal in which the FCC's authority to enforce wireline non-discrimination is codified and, in fact, strengthened counts as "deregulation." Nor do I see much evidence that Wikipedia or other non-commercial sites would become harder to use. We might see, say, high-quality streaming video sites get faster, or the development of dedicated "traffic lanes" open only to bandwidth-intensive applications. And we might see content providers make deals with infrastructure owners for higher quality service. But the Wikipedias of the world would almost certainly continue to operate exactly as effectively as they do now.

Will this man be homeless?

At The Washington Post, Celia Kang notes that, under the terms of the deal, "Verizon could block an application such as Microsoft's Bing search service from its subscribers' mobile phones, or it could charge consumers extra for access to certain popular applications delivered at better quality than other Web sites." If you want something to worry about, this is probably it (although I suspect that consumer pressure would push providers to exercise a lot of caution in blocking competing services). But even still, how is this really all that different from the choices consumers make in the current mobile marketplace? Anyone looking to buy a mobile data device must already choose between a variety of phones, operating systems, networks, and application sets. Buy a Droid, and you don't have access to iTunes, or the App Store. Buy an iPhone, and you're not going to be able to use Verizon's network, or its GPS capabilities. As long as mobile providers aren't misleading customers about what they offer (or what they don't), it hardly seems like a serious worry that consumers must select from a variety of different feature sets.

And, of course, that's the big picture here: allowing and encouraging a diversity of feature sets and service options for content providers and consumers. Neutrality advocates stress the concept of equality for a reason—the goal is to ensure a level of sameness amongst consumers. But when it comes to information-service markets, especially the growing world of mobile data access, not all plans, phones, and networks are created equal. But that's as it should be, because not all consumer needs are the same. Those who want more should be able to pay for it. Those who don't shouldn't have to.

NEXT: Gibbs' Clarification: It's Just That I'm So Frustrated When People Use Accurate Words to Describe Things!

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  1. Their proposal would codify and clarify the FCC’s power to enforce non-discrimination rules on wireline networks,

    WTF? Would it kill these guys to just adopt a nice, clean “The FCC has no authority over any aspect of the internet, whether it is content, service delivery, or connectivity”?

    1. That doesn’t expand their authority.

      I’m not sure if they would really know what to do with it, it’s more authority and they want it.

  2. Can anything say I’m a loser that’s never legally felt the touch of a woman more so than that pic.

    1. He’s a celebrity. The man probably has groupies now.

  3. Am I the only one troubled by the fact that basic economic freedom looks fit to survive only because two companies reached a deal?

  4. I can’t for the life of me figure out why any company that wants to compete fairly would ever invite the government to do anything. I can see lots of places where they’d want the feds out or to stop meddling.

    This smells of evil to me.

  5. OK, computer geeks, nerds, and ubernerds, what is the best policy to assure ultra fast downloads of porn?

    1. Porn creators can afford to pay for prioritization.

    2. Call your internet provider and ask for their upgraded download service. Don’t let them sell you on a faster upload.

  6. I would be fine with allowing carriers to slow down or prioritize data as they please, in exchange for surrendering common carrier protections. Once you start filtering and prioritizing, you’re not a common carrier. I doubt Verizon and AT&T would charge for access in exchange for immunity from liability for third party content.

    1. Most logical comment I have seen anywhere. But beware, this is the point where the FCC re-defines “common carrier”.

  7. Tim Wu, who originally coined the term Net neutrality, warned that if the proposal were to be adopted, non-commercial sites like Wikipedia would “get slower and harder to use.”

    Like, how much harder and slower, Tim Wu?

    See? I said it before – leftists love to use these squishy, touchy-feely, vague terms, in lieu of solid logical arguments.

  8. I wonder, though, how a proposal in which the FCC’s authority to enforce wireline non-discrimination is codified and, in fact, strengthened counts as “deregulation

    It doesn’t, obviously, therefore this is bad. No matter how it is spun, this is bad.

    When in doubt, err on the side of less government control, never more

  9. Tim Wu, who originally coined the term Net neutrality, warned that if the proposal were to be adopted, non-commercial sites like Wikipedia would “get slower and harder to use.

    I doubt it.

    Sites like Netflix and Hulu would be harder to use. Verizon would slow you down when you try to use those sites so that you’d opt to purchase their FIOS TV service instead. Wikipedia itself takes up such little bandwidth in most instances that it wouldn’t bother Verizon much at all. It’s ALL about commercial competition – unless Verizon buys Encyclopedia Brittanica I doubt Verizon would hamper the use of Wikipedia.

    1. Netflix and Hulu could afford to pay for priority streaming.

      It’s free video content that would suffer. Definitely bittorrent. Possibly YouTube.

      1. Definitely NOT YouTube. That’s the whole reason they had these talks in the first place. Google wants Verizon to prioritize YouTube.

      2. That’s news to me. I didn’t realize Hulu was profitable enough to outbid Google for prioritization.

  10. we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless
    Given the technology advancements in cellular routers this is slightly frightening. I could see cellular internet taking over the DSL market.

    we strongly believe that it is in the national interest for all Americans to have broadband access to the Internet.
    Translation, please help us expand out markets. YouTube doesn’t run that well on dialup.

  11. Importantly, this new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic – including paid prioritization. So, in addition to not blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favor particular Internet traffic over other traffic.

    I read that as completely opposite of prioritized services should be allowed

    However I think it is a preemptive strike against Comcast and other cable providers and their usage limits. Conceivably without it Comcast could offer access to Hulu, Fancast or whatever their preferred partner is, without counting the bandwidth towards a monthly limit, while at the same time counting all YouTube traffic. This really is nothing more than a business looking to the government to give them an edge.

  12. I seriously doubt that a text-dominated site like Wikipedia is going to slow down.

    The thing impacted most by prioritizing content would be video and bittorrent traffic. So content providors that can afford to pay – those with a source of revenue – would get priority over free services.

    IMO, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it provides some natural market mechanism for content creators to profit from their work without throwing kids in jail for pirating software. The streaming video and even online software distribution would be faster and higher quality for legit distributors, giving original creators an advantage.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put the squeeze on video game traffic, even though it doesn’t clog the tubes like video and P2P traffict does, just because most gamers would be willing to pay.

      1. You’re assuming a lack of competition in the broadband market.

        Otherwise, companies would just undercut eachother by promising not to throttle gaming.

  13. I have no problem with this. Create an ISP and advertise its neutrality.

    1. That’s the whole issue here – it’s very difficult to ‘create’ an ISP. If new ISPs were popping up all over, it wouldn’t be an issue, but right now in America, the vast majority of broadband internet is provided by two or three large companies.


        More like 5 ISPs, with none controlling more than 15% of the market.

        “Other ISPs” holding

        1. Err … bad link better

          1. Gaaahhhh ….

            “Other ISPs”

  14. The big problem that I see is the fact that these big companies have the money to make things harder for the little guy. Right? I mean, if the idea is that companies can pay to prioritize their sites/content, doesn’t that mean they’ll have a ridiculously huge advantage over newcomers? That sounds like the invasion of Poland–I mean…like the way Wal-Mart put so many smaller store out of business.

  15. This is a good article. I hope they don’t make big websites run slower like Wikipedia as mentioned above. That would not be fun. Maybe what those smaller companies need to do is become bigger with some marketing partner so none of this can go into affect.

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