Happy Net Neutrality Day

Once again, we’ve come to another deadline for the filing of comments to the FCC on net neutrality, possibly the most mystifying subject in the history of technology policy. This deadline applies to the FCC’s third attempt to impose regulations on Internet Service Providers, the firms who connect our homes, offices, and smart phones to the rest of the Internet; and more specifically, it applies to the “Reply” phase of the comment cycle that started in June.

It’s been widely reported that more comments have been filed in the 2014 version of net neutrality (the two previous inquiries were around the Comcast/Bit Torrent kerfuffle in 2008 and a previous set of rules enacted in 2010) than in any other piece of FCC business. The previous record was set by the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, with some 1.4 comments filed, but net neutrality 3.0 will top 3 million by the time it’s all said and done.  The volume of comments this time around has a lot to do with HBO comedian John Oliver biting the hand that feeds him by denouncing the very cable companies who bring his show into American homes over a “fast lane” on their broadband networks.

I’ve filed comments in the previous proceedings, so I’m extending my streak by filing in this one as well. The arguments have already been made, of course, and it seems to be that they fall into three categories:

  1.  Visions: Some of those in favor of new regulations believe the nature of Internet service is best for all users and all applications if the carriers treat all information in the same way; there’s no proof for this, it’s simply a point of view or a vision. The desired practice will, they believe, force carriers to invest in additional capacity that will make all applications work better. The drawback is that you can’t solve all network problems by throwing bandwidth at them any more than you can solve all societal problems by throwing money at them. It’s also expensive to over-engineer one part of a system in the name of performance when the bottleneck is actually somewhere else.
  2. Animosity: There’s a long-standing feud between Internet culture (“net heads”) and telco culture (“Bell heads”), but like the rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it’s one-sided (SF sees LA as a rival but LA doesn’t.) This is another frame of reference issue, not a factual one. The cable and phone companies know quite well that their business success depends on a thriving Internet, and most sensible Internet people know that the carriers have to make money in order for Internet entrepreneurs to make money.
  3. Envy: Some net neutrality advocates have sold a bogus story to credulous reporters to the effect that broadband users in the U.S. pay too much to get too little in the way of broadband performance. They’ve accomplished this by comparing the U.S. to small countries that have subsidized telecom firms formerly owned by the government to install fiber optic cable and electronics that enable extremely high speed connections to homes and offices. Comparisons of this sort highlight nations that have done well by careful planning over a decade or more – like Sweden and Japan – and nations whose new fiber networks are too young to evaluate, like Latvia and Estonia. So I’ve written a monstrous paper that highlights real usage and real profits in G7 nations (U.S., Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Japan). I have filed this paper as my comment.

I wonder how long it will be until the next Net Neutrality Day comes along