Post-Tim Berners-Lee

Net Neutrality

It was on a leisurely stroll through Innsbruck that I was verbally assaulted and schooled on an early method of mass communication. While peering through window after window of interesting and foreign objects I stumbled across one that I cared to inquire about. When told it was a very old Gutenberg Printing Press my face scrunched up with the lack of familiarity with the name. My companion took it upon herself to point out that I should already know exactly who Johannes Gensfleisch Gutenberg was. While I attempted to save face by arguing that it shouldn’t matter what the name of the guy who invented the movable-type Printing Press was and that only the actual results of his invention should still matter, I was ashamed enough to never forget it. Thanks to him more books met more hands and so started a rejuvenation of culture and thought in Europe. His invention should never be forgotten. Especially when one considers that every modern tool human’s have come up with will eventually be abused by some jackass or another. Half a millennium later and another new method of spreading information has already arrived. People are learning things they might never have in the past and yet at the same time people seem just as uninformed as ever. Not to mention the army of scammers, identity thieves, and trolls abusing this great new information instrument. In Steven Harnad’s article Post-Gutenberg Galaxy he referred to this jump in media technology as the fourth revolution, the other three having been human language, writing, and the printing press (Harnad,1991).  This fourth revolution brought about an amazing era for the sharing of knowledge. However, it did not arrive without some challenges. In what could be called the Post-Berners-Lee Galaxy, cable companies in charge of providing internet services have recently tried to change the rules to the game in a brazing act of self-interest. The citizens of the internet responded with fervor, and although their response may be vague and boring to the average user, Net Neutrality has hopefully come to stay.

Net Neutrality is the idea that all information on the internet should be treated equally. This is basically how the internet has been functioning since Tim Berners-Lee’s invention first started connecting the corners of the world. At the beginning of this 21st century we have just passed over the threshold of this information sharing revolution. We are still feeling and figuring out how we are going to use this extraordinary tool that has been provided for us. This is where a number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have come up with an idea that they think will be beneficial for users and competition in the market. The idea being that providers should be able to decide what information goes at what speeds. This is also where many users and citizens have had to step up and boldly state that this is not the way to improve the web and that all information should be received at the same speeds indiscriminately. These ISPs need to understand that while their hands may be on the tap of internet flow that tap exists because we decide not to tear down buildings and bridges and actually commit to a shared society. If there are any apprehensions to internet access not being a right, I suggest taking it up with the UN. The UN Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution for the “promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet”, condemning countries that disrupt access for citizens (Boyle, 2016).

A closer look at the actors in these broadband theatrics may help to better understand the disagreement. On the government side we have the current Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission. It is the FCC that decides the rules and regulations for communications such as radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. At the end of the day it is this commission that must keep the citizens’ best interests in mind when it comes to maintaining broadband competition. The commission is made of five commissioners appointed by the President for five-year terms. And although they are meant to have no financial interest in any FCC related business one of Obama’s more recent appointees, Tom Wheeler, used to lobby heavily for the telecommunications industry. So while the integrity of the institution may be in question, not every commission can be a perfect.

Next we have the users, the content creators, the people, the consumers, or as some may see them, the dupes. Since the world first started going online in the 1990s the United States reached 50% of the population online in 2001 and is now sitting around 84% of the population (Perrin and Diggan, 2015). Out of that 84% a healthy 2,551,849 individuals wrote comments to the FCC regarding the potential rule change to treat data differently (Sohn, 2016). While this may be a small portion of America’s 322,000,000 plus population it shows that this issue is at least not being completely ignored. Many people recognize the rising power of the internet in our Western society. Today trying to do anything without using the internet puts you at a significant disadvantage. Applying for jobs, going to school, staying up to date on any field of work, all these things become easier with access to the wealth of knowledge and information on the web. I offer applause to the people who still don’t have email; the John Henry Steel Driving men and women of the past trying to make do without new confangled machines. For those of us looking to continuing to log on I have only a sliver of awareness to offer in hopes that our newest and most crucial service will not be taken advantage of and turned into some invisible interconnecting racket.

Lastly we have the tech companies, content providers, internet providers, and non-profits on both sides of the argument. Internet providing services (ISPs) stood the most to gain in losing net neutral rules. These cable companies, like Comcast and Time Warner, pushed hard to change the rules and fix the internet to their liking. They wanted to create a two tier system and charge content providers, like Google, Facebook, and Netflix, for getting their services to consumers faster. This would eventually mean not just higher prices for them but also for users and consumers. It would also make it more difficult for new start-ups to pay for reliable service speeds for their potential customers, essentially ruining their chances to be competitive. ISPs argue that it will not be a fast lane and a slow lane but a fast lane for everyone and a super-fast lane for premium customers willing to pay more. The claim is that they want to provide faster internet speeds but many users as well as many content providing companies do not agree.

It is more beneficial to consumers to manage all content equally. Content should not be slowed down or hindered in anyway regardless of how much you are paying. Luckily, the FCC and the Washington DC appellate court decided that the internet should be treated as a utility without ISPs acting as gatekeepers and remaining neutral when controlling speeds (McKinnon and Kendall, 2016). The ruling was seen as a step in the right direction concerning internet policy by users, content providers, and even Tom Wheeler of the FCC; “Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web, and it ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth,” he said (Lillington, 2016).

While the net needs to remain neutral to allow smaller and new start-ups to be able to compete they are not the only ones in support of keeping the rule. Even larger companies see the need for this rule, including many Silicon Valley firms (Lillington,2016). This strange union between protestors and companies emphasizes the importance of keeping the internet neutral and fair. Even though Alphabet, Google’s parent company started in 2015, is a broadband provider itself with Google Fiber in five U.S. cities, it has been generally supportive of keeping net neutrality rules (McKinnon and Kendall, 2016). Besides Google, internet based companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon joined citizen opposition to the attempted rule change. Since the first mentions of net neutrality in the early 2000 the anti-net neutral camp has greatly out-spent the pro-net neutral camp in the lobbying war over a change in rules (Winkie, 2014). The companies that spent the most against neutrality were the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications, and Comcast Corporation (Winkie, 2014). Comcast was also only beaten in amount of lobbying money spent by Northrop Grumman; the global aerospace and defense technology company.

Internet Service Providers may have the money but they do not have the people power. One of the ways they have tried to circumvent this problem is to put a spin on their actual goal to make it seem both boring and in consumer’s best interests. Their lame claim that everyone will still have fast internet and others with have a more expensive superfast internet falls flat on most people who have a basic understanding of the dilemma here. Thankfully some have realized that there should be no middlemen between the user and information. The problem is that we cannot trust these ISPs to not take advantage of internet speeds. Especially when they already run the market in a cartel type fashion. They openly admit that they (ISPs) stay out of each other’s territory essentially creating regional monopolies that destroy competition. Now Americans are paying more for slower internet speeds than many other countries around the world (Eadicicco, 2014).

Luckily there are alternatives. Some cities are opting to create their own municipal broadband service providers to compete with the larger more powerful private companies to get better speeds (Yi, 2015). However, the FCC ruling that the internet be treated as a utility is not set in stone and anti-net neutral companies may bring the case to the supreme court. We are not out of the water yet. To better prepare for the fallout of that decision it is important to take note of the successes and failures of the European Union’s net neutrality rules.

The EU adopted new net neutrality rules last year to treat internet traffic equally. However, creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, has pointed out that the rules have many loopholes and weaknesses that ISPs could use to undermine net neutrality (Lillington, 2016). Apparently, although the rules have been put into place they include some relatively broad exceptions. For some time, the EU had no strict rules at all. In October 2015 they adopted the Connected Continent Regulation, but these new rules aimed at protecting an open internet and consumers may have fallen a bit short of the FCC’s decision in the U.S. (Wessing, 2016). BEREC is the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications and like the FCC acts to regulate the telecommunications market within the EU. BEREC has fortunately left room for feedback much like the FCC did when making its own decision on the issue. For many, simple feedback is not enough. An internet protest consisting of over 7000 websites, the Fight for the Future foundation, and other non-profits are worried the EU technocrats in BEREC won’t do enough or will leave loopholes open to exploit net neutrality (Dudau, 2016). These websites are demonstrating their opposition to weak laws by displaying a slow loading icon of the EU stars to signal their disapproval.

The strategy to be used here for going forward with an open internet is simple; vigilance. Tim Berners-Lee pointed out that the FCC ruling is important for consumer rights, free speech, and for using the internet as a platform for democracy (Jiang, 2016). If we are to have a free and open society a free and open internet will surely be necessary. The FCC has made sure that any rule change by future administrations would need to be accepted by a majority of the commissioners, open to a public comment period, followed by a comment period on those comments, and at least 3 out of 5 would have to accept the new rules (Reardon, 2015). Reardon goes into detail on some of the finer points of Net Neutrality and is worth a read if confusion persists on the issue.

To some the issue might seem trivial and it certainly is boring for many to just have to hear about it. However, it is one of the more crucial issues of our generation. And unfortunately the problem of countering what John Oliver aptly described as Cable Company Fuckery is far from over. Americans still pay more for slower speeds than many other countries. The ISPs that did not get their way this time around are still running their Mafioso type services all around the country. It is unfortunate that it has come down to ISPs acting without regard to consumer’s access to information. Elizabeth Warren came out recently saying that “… while big telecom giants have been consuming each other, consumers have been left out in the cold — facing little or no choice in service providers and paying through the nose for cable and internet service” (Bode, 2016). AT&T came out after the FCC decision and said it will continue to fight and will bring the issue to the Supreme Court now (Kang, 2016). While this has been seen as a win for consumers it is clearly just one fistfight in what is sure to become a street brawl for an open and free internet. Consumers and users are not out of the woods yet, as ISPs move to continue the fight. To move away from the reliance on these ISPs some cities have taken the ruling to heart the idea that the internet should be treated as a utility and not a luxury to be paid for. Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bristol, Virginia, Lafayette, Louisiana, Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Wilson, North Carolina have all moved toward a municipal broadband service to escape dependence on ISPs (Yi, 2015). Too many people have little to no idea how important this issue is. If the case is taken the Supreme Court, it will be up to consumers to remain vigilant and protect net neutrality, or we will be paying a hefty sum to glorified private librarians for the foreseeable future.

Keep the internet Fast, Affordable, Safe, and Transparent.

Dan Van Winkle July 15th, 2016

“When data usage is free on an app like Pokémon GO—or a set of services like Netflix, HBO, and Hulu—it’s effectively the same as charging extra to use literally any other site or service on the Internet. It gives preferential treatment to those popular services, while any competition that didn’t get in on the promotion is out of luck. Basically, T-Mobile offers unlimited data but charges extra if you’re not using something on a list of approved games or services. Think of it like gas stations offering a discount for using cash when they’re not allowed to charge extra to use credit—it’s a loophole used to do the same thing, plain and simple.”

Bibliography

Bode, K. (2016) Elizabeth Warren slams Comcast, wants more antitrust enforcement. Available at: http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Elizabeth-Warren-Slams-Comcast-Wants-More-Antitrust-Enforcement-137333 (Accessed: 7 July 2016).

Boyle, E. (2016) UN declares online freedom to be a human right that must be protected. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/un-declares-online-freedom-to-be-a-human-right-that-must-be-protected-a7120186.html (Accessed: 7 July 2016).

Dudau, V. (2016) 7000 EU websites are protesting net neutrality loopholes, with ‘EU slowdown’ campaign. Available at: https://www.neowin.net/news/7000-eu-websites-are-protesting-net-neutrality-loopholes-with-eu-slowdown-campaign (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Eadicicco, L. (2014) 3 charts about Internet access that will make Americans embarrassed. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/internet-speeds-in-the-us-and-around-the-world-2014-5 (Accessed: 3 July 2016).

Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg galaxy: The fourth revolution in the means of production of knowledge. Available at: http://cogprints.org/1580/1/harnad91.postgutenberg.html (Accessed: 21 June 2016).

Jiang, J. (2015) Transcript: World wide web inventor sir Tim Berners-Lee’s remarks at the FCC net neutrality hearing. Available at: http://www.whatthefolly.com/2015/02/26/transcript-world-wide-web-inventor-sir-tim-berners-lees-remarks-at-the-fcc-net-neutrality-hearing/ (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Kang, C. (2016) Court backs rules treating Internet as utility, not luxury. Available at: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/15/technology/net-neutrality-fcc-appeals-court-ruling.html (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Lillington, K. (2016) Europe needs to keep up with US on net neutrality issue. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/europe-needs-to-keep-up-with-us-on-net-neutrality-issue-1.2686055 (Accessed: 22 June 2016).

McKinnon, J.D. and Kendall, B. (2016) FCC’s net-neutrality rules upheld by appeals court. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/fcc-net-neutrality-rules-upheld-by-appeals-court-1465914663 (Accessed: 22 June 2016).

Perrin, A. and Duggan, M. (2015) Americans’ Internet access:<br>2000-2015. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/06/26/americans-internet-access-2000-2015/ (Accessed: 21 June 2016).

Reardon, M. (2015) 13 things you need to know about the FCC’s net neutrality regulation. Available at: http://www.cnet.com/news/13-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-fccs-net-neutrality-regulation/ (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Sohn, G.B. (2016) FCC releases open Internet reply comments to the public. Available at: https://www.fcc.gov/news-events/blog/2014/10/22/fcc-releases-open-internet-reply-comments-public (Accessed: 21 June 2016).

Wessing, T. (2016) First EU-wide net neutrality rules set to come into effect. Available at: http://united-kingdom.taylorwessing.com/en/first-eu-wide-net-neutrality-rules-set-to-come-into-effect (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

Winkie, L. (2014) Who lobbies on net neutrality? Available at: http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/lobbyists-net-neutrality-fcc/ (Accessed: 3 July 2016).

Yi, H. (2015) This is how Internet speed and price in the U.S. Compares to the rest of the world. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/internet-u-s-compare-globally-hint-slower-expensive/ (Accessed: 3 July 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Bode, K. (2016) Elizabeth Warren slams Comcast, wants more antitrust enforcement. Available at: http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Elizabeth-Warren-Slams-Comcast-Wants-More-Antitrust-Enforcement-137333 (Accessed: 7 July 2016).

(Bode, 2016)

Boyle, E. (2016) UN declares online freedom to be a human right that must be protected. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/un-declares-online-freedom-to-be-a-human-right-that-must-be-protected-a7120186.html (Accessed: 7 July 2016).

(Boyle, 2016)

Dudau, V. (2016) 7000 EU websites are protesting net neutrality loopholes, with ‘EU slowdown’ campaign. Available at: https://www.neowin.net/news/7000-eu-websites-are-protesting-net-neutrality-loopholes-with-eu-slowdown-campaign (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

(Dudau, 2016)

Eadicicco, L. (2014) 3 charts about Internet access that will make Americans embarrassed. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/internet-speeds-in-the-us-and-around-the-world-2014-5 (Accessed: 3 July 2016).

(Eadicicco, 2014)

Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg galaxy: The fourth revolution in the means of production of knowledge. Available at: http://cogprints.org/1580/1/harnad91.postgutenberg.html (Accessed: 21 June 2016).

(Harnad, 1991)

Jiang, J. (2015) Transcript: World wide web inventor sir Tim Berners-Lee’s remarks at the FCC net neutrality hearing. Available at: http://www.whatthefolly.com/2015/02/26/transcript-world-wide-web-inventor-sir-tim-berners-lees-remarks-at-the-fcc-net-neutrality-hearing/ (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

(Jiang, 2015)

Kang, C. (2016) Court backs rules treating Internet as utility, not luxury. Available at: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/15/technology/net-neutrality-fcc-appeals-court-ruling.html (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

(Kang, 2016)

Lillington, K. (2016) Europe needs to keep up with US on net neutrality issue. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/europe-needs-to-keep-up-with-us-on-net-neutrality-issue-1.2686055 (Accessed: 22 June 2016).

(Lillington, 2016)

McKinnon, J.D. and Kendall, B. (2016) FCC’s net-neutrality rules upheld by appeals court. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/fcc-net-neutrality-rules-upheld-by-appeals-court-1465914663 (Accessed: 22 June 2016).

(McKinnon and Kendall, 2016)

Perrin, A. and Duggan, M. (2015) Americans’ Internet access:<br>2000-2015. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/06/26/americans-internet-access-2000-2015/ (Accessed: 21 June 2016).

(Perrin and Duggan, 2015)

Reardon, M. (2015) 13 things you need to know about the FCC’s net neutrality regulation. Available at: http://www.cnet.com/news/13-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-fccs-net-neutrality-regulation/ (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

(Reardon, 2015)

Sohn, G.B. (2016) FCC releases open Internet reply comments to the public. Available at: https://www.fcc.gov/news-events/blog/2014/10/22/fcc-releases-open-internet-reply-comments-public (Accessed: 21 June 2016).

(Sohn, 2016)

Wessing, T. (2016) First EU-wide net neutrality rules set to come into effect. Available at: http://united-kingdom.taylorwessing.com/en/first-eu-wide-net-neutrality-rules-set-to-come-into-effect (Accessed: 4 July 2016).

(Wessing, 2016)

Winkie, L. (2014) Who lobbies on net neutrality? Available at: http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/lobbyists-net-neutrality-fcc/ (Accessed: 3 July 2016).

(Winkie, 2014)

Yi, H. (2015) This is how Internet speed and price in the U.S. Compares to the rest of the world. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/internet-u-s-compare-globally-hint-slower-expensive/ (Accessed: 3 July 2016).

(Yi, 2015)

 

 

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