Despite an outpouring of emails, phone calls, virtual signatures, and–more prevalently–Facebook posts, tweets, and comments in Reddit threads, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to open up discussions on a proposal regarding net neutrality. This is the part of the proceedings where things get interesting, though the internet seems to have already come to a conclusion about the eventual outcome.
Popular Twitter account @YourAnonNews tweeted “FCC votes to KILL #NetNeutrality” in response to the decision. Reddit’s /r/Technology subreddit pushed a thread to the front page of the website titled “Today, the FCC will destroy the internet. It’s been fun.” Defining net neutrality and preserving it in a way that ensures an equal and open internet is abundantly important. But if the internet wants to protect it, expressing their wishes through hyperbole isn’t the way. For people who aren’t paying attention, it now appears like a decision has already been made. It hasn’t. Here’s a few ways that the internet can better achieve its goal of maintaining net neutrality so we don’t get this far down the road the wrong way in the future.
Spread Accurate Information
Much like the sensational language of internet activists in response to the FCC’s proposal, some information passed around prior to the decision caused more confusion than clarity. Combating that going forward is one of the best things those who want to preserve an open internet can do–and that should be all of us. As visually effective as scare tactics like images of packaged website subscriptions and the like may seem, they don’t accurately reflect the current conversation. The linked image specifically dates back to at least 2009–and let’s be honest, no one is going to pay for Friendster.
The proposal put forward by the FCC may, through a long and slippery slope, eventually lead to a worst-case scenario that resembles cable television packages, but it looks paranoid when FCC Chairperson Tom Wheeler promises, “There is one Internet. It must be fast, it must be robust, and it must be open.” It’s easier and more relevant to the conversation to discuss the immediate concern: Internet fast lanes, or paid prioritization. Were this to be allowed, it would allow internet services providers (ISP) to charge companies more for faster connections to their consumers. This directly effects the content providers, which could pass the prices on to consumers. It makes for a pretty easy flow chart, even if it doesn’t look quite as intimidating as the packaged websites graphic.
But, and this is the important part, the FCC isn’t directly proposing paid prioritization. It was believed that an earlier draft included the fast lane proposal, but it’s presented differently in the final document. “We ask the question, should there be a ban in paid prioritization as an action of blocking?” Wheeler explained. That doesn’t rule it out either, but it does make it easy to target directly. It’s one of the major issues the FCC is calling for public comments on.
And it’s worth noting that this is already happening. Netflix has already had to pay up to Verizon and Comcast to ensure it had the fastest connection to consumers as possible–a practice already essentially allowed and unchanged by net neutrality regulations thanks to a practice called interconnection. It’s necessary to comment on and defeat paid prioritization by the FCC’s definition, but the practice won’t be stopped without broadening the regulations to also deal with interconnection.
Which brings us to the next step.
Setting Good Rules will Prevent Bad Rules
The internet has spent most of its time reacting to proposed regulations, working itself into a frenzy every time a new proposal threatens the idea of net neutrality. Killing these harmful acts as the arise is only effective for so long–eventually you have to stop trying to kill pests with a fly swatter as they come in and just shut the door. The best way to do this is to stop reacting to bad rules and start implementing good rules. The lack of net neutrality regulations is what allows ISPs to violate the principle in the past.
Take, for example, the court case between the FCC and Comcast in 2008. After discovering Comcast was actively interfering with peer-to-peer file sharing users, using fake reset packets to trick connections into believing their peers had hung up, the FCC attempted to sanction the company. Comcast sued, arguing that net neutrality rules weren’t formally filed and weren’t legally binding, and the D.C. Court of Appeals agreed with the service provider.
Part of the problem with net neutrality thus far has been the framing of the regulations. The last set of rules put were put in place under former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. Dubbed the 2010 Open Internet Order, it required increased transparency from ISPs, prevented service providers from blocking content, and prohibited network owners from “unreasonable” discrimination. The lack of clarity in the rules led the DC Circuit Appeals Court to strike down the order after Verizon challenged it. And, with those rules blocked, ISPs can now block whatever they choose. In theory, as University of Virginia law professor Tim Wu explains, AT&T could prevent people on its network from communicating with T-Mobile users.
This can and will continue to happen if more clear and effective legislation isn’t enacted.
The easiest way to do this is by…
Declare the Internet a Utility under Title II
As difficult as it will be to politically, the best thing the FCC can do is to reclassify broadband under Title II, making it a public utility the same way telecommunication is. This ensures that public networks are open and available at the same rates without discrimination–thus preventing the fast lane fear.
This was how internet services were initially classified back when most connections were accessed via dial up from common carriers. It changed when cable companies began to offer their own internet services, the FCC under the Bush administration made the decision to designate both cable and DSL as “information services” rather than “telecommunications services,” thus removing the common carrier label. It’s that decision, made over a decade ago now, that has put the FCC in its current predicament –though failing to attempt to rectify it sooner is the fault of the current administration.
While political opposition to this decision is strong thanks to the deep pockets of ISPs who want to keep their freedom to restrict web usage as they please, there is one thing that is working strongly in the favor of this motion: The courts. While the D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled against the FCC in the past–the two cases mentioned previously both were ruled on by the same judge, Judge David Tatel–they have been rather clear within the language of those rulings as to what the FCC needs to do. Judge Tatel went as far as to agree with the FCC’s policy goals and stated, “broadband providers represent a threat to internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.” There’s more than a hint toward openness to reclassification if the FCC is willing to attempt it.
As mentioned, there will be plenty of opposition to this idea, and the last time the idea was raised it was promptly squashed. And it’s not all political positioning. It’s important to acknowledge that…
There are Legitimate Arguments Against Net Neutrality
As cut and dry as this whole thing seems–and for the most case, is–there are some concerns regarding net neutrality that are worth consideration rather than immediate dismissal. The internet changes constantly and crafting regulations to tailored to it will prove increasingly difficult as it evolves. Hell, the Title II solution uses language that was put in place back in 1996 and is already out of date in how it defines telecommunications.
There’s also a fear that regulations will discourage both innovation and growth in network infrastructure. Forcing networks to treat all internet traffic the same eliminates the ability to experiment with premium services. Heavy traffic users pay the exact same as lighter users and companies that account for more internet activity pay the same for connection speed as websites that sit dormant and without traffic, and one could make an argument that this is unfair. Additionally, if rules were to cost service providers profit, they would be less likely to invest in upgrading their infrastructure–a process that requires billions of dollars to build and expand.
It’s easy to argue that the benefits of net neutrality greatly outweigh the theoretical concerns–telephone companies seem to be doing just fine despite being common carriers after all–but it’s important to understand the worries of those wary of regulation. Now that we know both sides of the debate, it’s easier to go to bat for net neutrality in a way that addresses opposing view points. So…
What Do We Do Now?
The second phase of the fight for this particular proposal takes place in two parts, both taking place for a 60 day stretch. The first will serve to collect initial comments on the proposal; The second will serve to take comments that respond to the first round of discussion. That’s enough time for some opportunistic opinion swaying.
All of those petitions you signed, form letters you sent, and links you shared? Get ready to do it all again–just remember how effective it was last time. (That is to say, not very.) Those tactics are fine starting points, if not a bit passive. Improving upon those methods is imperative to this part of the proceeding.
Here’s how to step it up:
When doing so, make it a unique. Do not send a single line comment and do not just copy and paste a pre-made script. These will get lumped into the category of mass mailers and while the committee will be able to see the total number of times a generic comment has been submitted, it appears underwhelming. Imagine a single people of paper “x1,000″ on it to signify it was sent one thousand times as opposed to one thousand individual pieces of paper stacked up.
In addition, try to address specific parts of the proposed rule. State objections to specific rules and convey why you object. It contributes to the conversation and makes your comment more likely to be read. Also, make sure to offer support for parts of the proposal that you agree with. Remember, setting up good rules is the best defense against bad rules. These are the questions the FCC is asking the public. Try to answer them:
- Should there be an outright ban on fast lanes?
- Should broadband access be classified as a Title II common carrier?
- Should the new Open Internet provisions also cover wireless (mobile) broadband?
If you don’t want to write a unique message yourself, grab one of those scripts and throw it in a content spinner so it at least looks like you made an effort.
Oh, and remember to be civil. You fucks. Every comment is in the public domain after the proceeding and if you just curse out the committee you’re going to look like an ass.
2. Don’t forget that social media posts are awareness rather than participation. Spreading the word to as many people as possible is important to make sure the dialogue includes as many people as possible, but the FCC isn’t recording your Facebook posts or tweets (that would be the NSA that records that information), or in my case, blog posts.
3. As always in these situations, contact your representatives. Make sure they know your position as a voter and as their constituent. If there’s one thing elected officials fear, it’s no longer being an elected official.
If you don’t know who your elected officials are (First consider taking a few steps back from “What is net neutrality?” and start back at “What is a representative government and how do I participate?”), then you can find out who they are and how to contact them at WhoIsMyRepresentative or at ContactingTheCongress. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has even made it easier. Enter your zip code and phone number and they will connect you with your representative’s office.
Is There Anything Else?
Sheesh, I don’t know. I guess not. I feel like this is quite a bit. A good start at the very least, wouldn’t you say? I mean, I don’t even know how you got this far. Did you skip stuff? Don’t skip stuff. Go back and start again. Also this is my way of telling you I have no clue how to close this thing, but I’m pretty much done. So, yeah. Scram, kid.