Net Neutrality

Obama: Government Should Regulate Internet to Keep it Free


So President Obama has announced that the Internet should be regulated as a public utility. He's asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) from "information services" under Title I as telecommunications providers under Title II regulatory guidelines. (See here for background on the distinction.)

This is all being done in the name of "Net Neutrality," keeping the Internet free and open, prohibiting "fast lanes" for certain services and sites, making sure no legal content is blocked, and all other horribles that…have failed to materialize in the absence of increased federal regulation.

Reason contributor and Clemson University economic historian Thomas W. Hazlett defines Net Neutrality as "a set of rules…regulating the business model of your local ISP." The definition gets to the heart of the matter. There are specific interests who are doing well by the current system—Netflix, for instance—and they want to maintain the status quo. That's understandable but the idea that the government will do a good job of regulating the Internet (whether by blanket decrees or on a case-by-case basis) is unconvincing, to say the least. The most likely outcome is that regulators will freeze in place today's business models, thereby slowing innovation and change. 

Obama is old enough to remember Ma Bell, which was even worse to customers than today's cable and Internet providers. And he is smart enough to recognize the Orwellian contradiction in introducing onerous new regulatory regimes in the name of keeping anything "free." The FCC has never been particularly adept at acting in the "public interest." The less control it has over the Internet (and TV and anything else), the better off we will all be. 

NEXT: NYPD Plans to Stop Arresting Cannabis Consumers. It Also Should Stop Charging Them With a Crime. [UPDATED]

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  1. Another super popular issue that Obama has taken up. Is he just dead set on pissing off as many people as possible before leaving office?

    1. If your first hobby horse pulls up lame, hop on another one.

    2. War is peace. And BO is one of the stupidest people to ever swing a hammer and sickle.

  2. I’m having a problem with my VoIP… it seems other internet traffic is squeezing out the VoIP traffic, resulting in dropouts and robotic warbling on the line. With network neutrality how do I fix that?

    1. Simple.

      You just need to buy an MPLS line.

      To everyone that you call.

    2. I’m not sure whether you’re serious, but if so, it’s called QOS. Quality of Service settings allow you to prioritize traffic types.

      1. But it can only prioritize traffic over the last mile. Not over the rest of the network.

    3. Pay for business class service. You want QoS and guaranteed bandwidth, you get to pay for it.

  3. And he is smart enough to recognize the Orwellian contradiction in introducing onerous new regulatory regimes in the name of keeping anything “free.”

    No doubt. He just doesn’t care.

    1. He cares. He just sees it as a feature.

  4. Regulating a market does nothing if not keep price down and service up.

    1. That explains why flying used to be so cheap…

  5. They want to make internet regulation like phone service regulation used to be.

    Well, after they regulated phone service the first time, there was NO innovation in that space for over a century.

    1. In this country,first you get the power, then you get the telephones,THEN you get the net neutrality.

      1. The fact is, they’re flooding this valley so they can hydroelectric up the whole durn state. Yes, sir, the South is gonna change. Everything’s gonna be put on electricity and run on a paying basis.

        1. +1 for “Oh Brother…”

    2. That’s not really true, but innovation was indeed slow and I bet the legal monopoly and federal subsidy of the existing infrastructure played just as big a role as FCC oversight.

      Telecom innovation was more a function of demand, though. Until the interweb took off and put severe strains on the existing infrastructure, there really wasn’t much need to do more than act as stewards of the PSTN. I think that even if the barriers weren’t in place things wouldn’t have looked much different in 1980 than they actually were.

      1. Remember the acoustic modem? They existed because AT&T didn’t permit connecting anything other than phones to the telephone system. Once Carter deregulated phones, we got modems and fax machines…

        Plus, the price of long distance calls started really falling.

        1. Plus, the price of long distance calls started really falling.

          Yup. I remember when a long distance call was a big deal. If someone asked to use the phone, you’d ask if it was local, “local”, or long-distance.

          1. Yeah, as kids, we had to be silent when my grandparents were talking on the phone long distance.

            I grew up spoiled in Georgia… metro Atlanta is the largest local toll free calling area in the US. Here in LA, anything over (I think) 18 miles is a local toll call.

            The result of that is that everyone calls mobile to mobile since most people have free mobile to mobile calling plans.

        2. Ah, the Carterfone decision – Someone really does know their telephony. Sorry, for above, didn’t realize you were being facetious.

    3. I had that same argument about a lack of innovation with somebody who called me an idiot for not knowing all of the wonderful things Bell Labs researched and invented – transistors and semiconductors, satellites, CCDs, programming languages – none of which had a dam thing to do with improving the phone system we were stuck with. The biggest innovation I was aware of throughout my childhood was the Princess phone; you didn’t have to have that clunky black box on the wall, you could have a phone sitting on the table that looked like Snoopy or Donald Duck. What a time to be alive!

      1. Most of that was done either at the enterprise level or within the network itself. There’s no need for Ma Bell to run around telling John Q. Public about wonderful improvements in hosted PBX, multiplexing, or switch automation, after all; he’s buying his service from her at the rates she sets (and the FCC approves!) regardless.

        I think that all those droll technical improvements might have happened faster and there would have been increased innovation in other services absent FCC interference, but I don’t think any substantial, game changing innovations happen before the PC revolution. Hell, we’re 25 years past that point and AT&T is only just now making noise about decommissioning the copper switched-voice networks.

      2. Phones aside, you may be an idiot if you don’t recognize what a National Treasure Bell Labs was. Big loss with the AT&T breakup.

    4. not true sir. we got 1+ dialing after about 95 years.

  6. Whatever you opinion of net neutrality or government regulation of the internet, can’t we all agree that the FCC is probably the worst agency to charge with implementing it?

    1. I have to imagine that by reclassifying the ISPs, we are just a few steps away from giving the government the authority to censor internet pornography.

      “In order to protect children, internet pornography shall not be streamed before 11:00 pm.”

      1. Good thing I don’t stream it.

        1. You’re only depriving yourself of high quality smut tailored to your needs.

          Why does everyone want to be a free-rider?

          1. I have plenty of high quality smut tailored to my needs. It’s just on my own network.

            1. You’re taking food and various other things out of my mouth.

    2. Why? The FCC is just a result of its mission. Any agency tasked with “regulating” the internet would eventually become just as bad as the FCC.

      1. They will all be bad, but never quite as bad as the FCC.

    3. IRS?

    4. It’s only a short step from net neutrality to barring the net from distributing pirated videos.

      If the government can step in and say “thou shalt not discriminate among packets”, then it can step in and say “though shalt not distribute the evil pirate packets”.

      1. And DMCA takedowns can happen immediately and automatically, without those pesky ISPs and hosting companies holding things up with their silly concerns about the law and customer service and public disclosure. It’ll all be so much more efficient this way.

  7. Obama really isn’t wasting any time going out in a blaze of glory is he. After he’s done ruining the internet, I wonder what’s next.

    1. Well, he’s screwed the pooch in the medical care field, made us investors in a car company that can’t buy decent parts. Now, he can ruin the internet.
      Let’s see. Maybe he can nationalize the oil industry? That’s a good way to cause maximum harm.

    2. Giving 5 million green cards to illegals.

      1. 5 million? I think we can do a little better than that.

  8. Now I ask you; how can it be free if it’s not regulated?

    1. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to cut.

  9. He’s asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) from “information services” under Title I as telecommunications providers under Title II regulatory guidelines.

    More agency rule-making?!

  10. And he is smart enough to recognize the Orwellian contradiction in introducing onerous new regulatory regimes in the name of keeping anything “free.”

    [Citation Needed]

  11. It isn’t easy, but if I drink really heavily and don’t sleep for a few nights, I can almost see how people can think that corporations are a more real and present threat to their freedom than the government. But so far, I haven’t gotten to the point where I can think that the government is safe.

    1. Just tell your liberal friends that the government is like a corporate monopoly that is legally allowed to use violence against you.

  12. Let’s cut through all the clutter; how will this affect internet porn?

    1. It will give the feminazis a back door to ban it.

      1. ‘Back Door Feminazis’ sounds like a good porn title.

        Not one I’d watch, though.

    2. PC porn is going to be terrible. it will become impossible to search for what you want because the approve vernacular will change daily. We will be forced to go back to vhs.

      1. You will have to send in the approved form specifying your interests. When the proper forms have notarized by the licensed FCC representative, then the form will be mailed the ISP you indicated on the form.

        After the ISP has signed off on the form, they will then contact the FCC gatekeeper, who will then do a search of all the content relevant to your search interest. After an exhaustive search, the gatekeeper will then send the search items to the FCC censorship committee.

        Once the FCC censorship committee has approved all of the search items, it will contact your ISP and give their approval to transmit the search items to your computer terminal.

        Once the transmission has commenced over the FCC-approved medium, it shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes for the porn to show up on your computer.

        1. actually that might lead to a revolution.

        2. Live camming will have to be delayed to ensure compliance with the fairness doctrine.

          1. Live camming will require both parties go through the proper channels. Also, the female party will be vetted by the proper authorities. If she is below legal age or not properly licensed, the male party will be arrested.

            1. All camming interactions will be reviewed by a board of academic Marxist cultural critics. If either party is deemed to be acting in a way they determine to be misogynist or heteronormative, action will be taken.

              Males will be put in jail and put on a probationary sex offender list that is identical in effect to the regular sex offender list, but is marketed differently. The woman will be considered a psychological risk and moved to a rescue center away from her probable pimps. The rescue center may seem like a jail because of the locked doors and guards, but it’s totally not because it has throw pillows and group therapy sessions. Also, jail sentences end after a set period of time, not when psychologists declare you free of crimethink. Meanwhile, her kids will be moved to foster homes where they will probably not be abused and raped, but accidents happen.

    3. Your streaming porn service won’t work as well with net neutrality.
      It will periodically freeze in mid-thrust.

  13. “In order to regulate the undue influence of rich people in the political debate, political blogs are now required to register with the federal government.”

  14. Given that the former and current chair and several of the present and immediate past commissioners of the FCC were employed by the cable companies or the cable company associations and every member stands to rake in the big bucks when they leave government service and get hired as lobbyists or consultants by the very group they’re ostensibly regulating, I can’t wait to see if they are any more entertaining as regulators than the referees at a wrasslin’ match are as regulators of a match between Pampero Firpo and Bobo Brazil.

    1. Hey, at least wrasslin’ is real!

  15. “And (Obama) is smart enough to recognize the Orwellian contradiction…”

    That is an assumption based on information not in evidence.

    There is not a single scintilla of evidence supporting this assertion in anything he has said or done since he became a public figure.

    It is merely his automatic effort to extend governmental power and control over everything he sees, hears about, or ponders.

    1. He’s the most brainlessly technocratic executive we’ve had in a long time. Probably since FDR, and maybe before.

  16. Can he just, please, Shut Up?

  17. It’s like he read Orwell and then read Rand and then thought up how to be a caricature of their villains with one sentence.

  18. This isn’t Orwellian. It’s the Inquisition, with Barack Torquemada Obama. You people didn’t have enough faith in him, so he’s going to have to punish you until you confess and repent.

    1. you can’t Torquemada anything!

  19. you know who else made dubious assertions as to what would make you free?

    1. Stalin?

    2. Oh wait…Siddhartha?

    3. Your lord and savior Jesus Christ?

      Ok, I vomited a bit typing that.

    4. Alexander Hamilton?

    5. Rudy Guiliani?

  20. It’s Orwell for a new age

    Regulation is Freedom
    Spying is privacy
    Not Giving is Taking

    We’ve always be at war with the rest of the world.

  21. I keep waiting for him to break character and say “just kidding! You guys didn’t believe this nonsense, right?”

    1. Barak Obama is really Andy Kaufman?

      1. It would explain so much.

  22. Government Should Regulate Internet to Keep it Free

    I want to throw ice cream into the oven to keep it frozen.

    1. Specially trained foxes to guard the hen-house?

      1. Gasoline to put out a fire.

  23. See, launched so flawlessly that they want to give you the chance to experience it every day.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. That was the fault of the free market contractor who made the website. This time they’ll take out the free market part.

    2. In the future, the FCC will demand that be prioritized over other traffic during open enrollment.

      Mark my words, the FCC is politically incapable of remaining neutral when the power to NOT be neutral lies in it’s hands. Giving the government the power to make these decisions is NOT going to work out the way net neutrality advocates think.

  24. Someone more eloquent than I should write a succinct little blurb plainly explaining why this is terrible that we can post around the rest of the internet where people are going wild over this atrocious idea.

    1. But haven’t you read The Oatmeal’s totally BRUTAL takedown of that IDIOT Send Cruz and his STUPID and DUMB RIGHT-WING idiotness? I mean it’s the OATMEAL guys!!1! It’s cute and funny and stick figures progsplaining why it’s REGULATION not CONTROL, wingnut!

      Forget it, it’s not my job to educate you. Your role is to LISTEN and BELIEVE.

  25. I see both sides to this issue. On the one hand, I can see large corporations squeezing out smaller players (preventing the next netflix), but I also like the idea of getting my netflix streaming fast and reliable. To me, if I’m paying for netflix then netflix should be able to pay my ISP or a backbone to allow their data through. I’d be against a corporation from paying to slow down or block opposing services – I don’t know if there were laws preventing that previously. In any case, I live in LA (the internet ghetto) because of city regulations that require poorer neighborhoods to be upgraded first so no upgrading is done. I sort of see that possibility happening on a large scale with net neutrality – less incentive to upgrade existing lines and backbones if corporations aren’t kicking in extra money for those enhancements.

    1. I can see both sides too. However, I think the other side is mostly made up of paranoid screaming.

      The theory that net neutrality advocates seem to be operating under is that all non-paying content providers will be effectively throttled into non-existence.

      But I honestly doubt if prioritization will be used for much more than video and audio streaming services.
      Primarily because text content is so much less bandwidth intensive, that prioritization can’t make that much difference in the larger scheme of things, especially when compared to basic server speed. That lag on websites isn’t ALL network delivery time.
      Secondly, consumers simply aren’t going pay for internet service where their favorite websites run noticeably slower so that pop-up ads can be delivered in full flashing glory.
      This is where the free market steps in. If you want net neutrality, go buy your internet service from a company that promises net neutrality.

      If anything needs to happen it is to break up the local cable monopolies.

  26. Freezing today’s internet business models sounds appealing…if you want your phones to be rotary and black…FOREVER.

    And, you won’t have to worry about any website being better or faster than any other. Remember what you learned in “Animal Farm”: All animals (websites) are equal; except that the pigs (___fill in the blank) are more equal.

  27. I don’t see how the fuck you’re supposed to do video streaming reliably over the internet without prioritizing video traffic at bottlenecks.

    The answer from net neutrality folks just seems to be “don’t have bottlenecks”, which is assinine.

  28. Mark my words:
    If net neutrality goes through, the ultimate result will be to make the web LESS NEUTRAL.

    Why? Because once the political process dictates what can be prioritized and what cannot be, they WILL use that power to prioritize politically approved content, and throttle disapproved content.

    It is inevitable. It will start with pirated video and games. The FCC will step in and demand that ISPs throttle data from pirate sites and torrents. The studios will figure out how and demand it. They will make the right donations to make it happen. And the FCC will consider it an obligatory part of their mission. They have to enforce the law, right?

    And it will grow from there. Islamic extremist websites will get throttled. Then “domestic terrorists”.

    Then the government will demand that “educational” programming get prioritized. Then they will demand that get prioritized, along with every other .gov domain. And so on.

    The notion that the FCC is going to take this power and be COMPLETELY FAIR AND NEUTRAL with it is literally insane, given everything we already know about how government really works in a democracy, rent seeking and cronyism and all.

  29. Is anyone else afraid this is the back door that SOPA will sneak thru?

    1. Um, DUH. Yes.
      That’s what I’m saying above.

      Soon as the FCC gets the power to control how ISPs treat packets, they are going to feel COMPELLED to “enforce the law”. The law says that piracy is illegal. Thus the FCC is going to have NO CHOICE but to introduce rules that require ISPs to throttle pirated content.

      If you’ve ever watched any government agency in action, the mission creep is inexorable. An agency that is tasked with doing X will do everything in it’s power to do X, and will do everything in it’s power to get more power to do X some more.

  30. But I’m told that The Greedy Corporations who built everything and who make their money selling bandwidth to everyone are even now right on the cusp of refusing to take money from customers for no good reason and censoring our Netflix queues. Right. On. The. Cusp.

    So clearly nationalizing the Internet, under the careful supervision of people who demand to see the contents of your prayers and people who violate the 4th Amendment and people who enforce fines for naughty words and exposed titties and for saying the wrong things during elections, is just common sense.

    1. Netflix will work BETTER if they are allowed to pay for prioritization.

      There’s no way you can do video streaming reliably online without prioritizing video packets at bottlenecks.

      The Net Neutrality advocates just seem to think that the ISPs should massively build up bandwidth so there aren’t any bottlenecks, which is almost impossible, not to mention inefficient. Traffic will grow to consume all available bandwidth. There will always be bottlenecks.

      1. Oh, absolutely. Everybody already arranges for prioritization in one way or another. Peering agreements are commonplace, and there’s the really amazing infrastructure built by distributed content providers.

        Under a for-profit model, bandwidth is built as needed, and bottlenecks indicate opportunities for innovation and profit. That’s what’s gotten us this far.

        Under a regulated model everything is inverted: Regulators are driven by political and ideological motivations and overseen by vested interests. Innovation is wasteful and frightening. Bandwidth is a scare and limited resource, where bottlenecks indicate the need for more rationing and tighter control.

      2. Even worse is that they seem to implicitly support some ISPs/transit providers exploiting others.

        Imagine I start a streaming company or other huge traffic generator and pick the cheapest ISP I can that has a decent amount of peer relationships with other companies. At some point, those other companies are going to balk at accepting huge amounts of traffic from my ISP for nothing and push to change to a paid peering agreement with my ISP.

        If it’s obvious that I’m the one generating the traffic, they might decide to invite/strongly suggest that I purchase transit from them if I wish to reach their customers this way, OR set up a content delivery server in their datacenters. If that fails, they may decide to throttle my ISP so that inbound/outbound traffic levels are equal, OR throttle traffic coming from me via my ISP while allowing other traffic through without change.

        This would be like people registering and fueling their cars in a state that charges/pays zero fuel taxes. At some point, other states would balk at this abuse of non-tolled “interstate” travel. Cars registered and obviously fueled in those states would either be denied entry or subjected to surcharge.

  31. What about this?…

    “According to the company, these six unnamed ISPs are deliberately degrading the quality of internet services using the Level 3 network, in an attempt to get Level 3 to pay them a fee for additional traffic caused by services like Netflix, a process known as paid peering”

    1. Sounds like Level 3 has a Settlement Free Interconnect agreement in place with the other providers and they feel Level 3 is abusing that agreement by sending significantly more traffic to those networks than it receives from the.

      SFI agreements typically require that the traffic be balanced.

      It sounds like Netflix is doing the shrewd thing and shopping around for the best priced access knowing full well (they have to know) that the ISP is exploiting its SFI agreement with connected ISPs.

      If I were an ISP, I wouldn’t tolerate another ISP sending 10 times as much traffic across my network as I send across theirs without being paid to act as their transit provider.

      If Netflix wants that kind of access to an ISPs customers, they need to pay for transit directly on those networks.

      1. *If I were an ISP, I wouldn’t tolerate another ISP (or transit/backbone provider)

    2. Assuming for the moment that this is not simply a routine contractual dispute, how do new FCC regulations solve this problem?

      The ISPs have a certain amount of existing bandwidth. To add more requires money. Level 3 wants access to more of that bandwidth but does not want to pay any more money. Will the FCC decree that the ISPs must increase their capacity for the benefit of Level 3’s customers? How is that fair to the ISPs other customers?

      “They are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers,” writes Level 3’s Mark Taylor. “They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.”

      No, Level 3’s customers are the content providers who pay them to provide interconnection services. Level 3’s overhead has increased and their margins are shrinking. I suggest that this is their problem, not mine, and not the FCCs.

  32. I’m NOT saying this is the case, but imagine if Netflix was pumping all or a lot of its streaming traffic through this AS:

    Peers of XO would start to push back since they would be acting as unpaid transit providers for one company.

    For the record, Netflix does have 171 peers.

    If they had built out their own network and allowed transit across it via SFI agreements, I could easily see companies balking as Netflix would undoubtedly generate far more traffic towards their peers then they carried from.

    I’m using Netflix as an example, but any large generator (or recipient) of traffic could be used.

  33. If we get “network neutrality,” we’ll see regulatory capture, rent seeking, and de facto censorship. I don’t see how this isn’t obvious and expected.

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