Net Neutrality Debate Requires Compromise To Move Discussion Forward

The text of the FCC’s “Restore Internet Freedom proposal has been published in PDF format and can be found here. I’m firmly against the proposal and find the name to be extremely misleading.

The FCC have also linked to a “Myths and Facts” PDF document, which is actually very light on facts and engages in a lot of speculation, that can be found here.

MYTH: Broadband providers will charge you a premium if you want to reach certain online content.

 FACT: This didn’t happen before the Obama Administration’s 2015 heavy-handed Internet regulations, and it won’t happen after they are repealed.

That’s not a fact, it’s a hope. There is support for FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai’s proposals. A decent article has been published by Ben Thompson at Stratechery – Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II :

  • Regulation incurs significants costs, both in terms of foregone opportunities and regulatory capture.
  • There is no evidence of systemic abuse by ISPs governed under Title I, which means there are no immediate benefits to regulation, only theoretical ones.
  • There is evidence that pre-existing regulation and antitrust law, along with media pressure, are effective at policing bad behavior.

The problem for Ajit Pai and the FCC is that even that article points out flaws with Ajit Pai’s proposal :

I believe that Ajit Pai is right to return regulation to the same light touch under which the Internet developed and broadband grew for two decades. I am amenable to Congress passing a law specifically banning ISPs from blocking content, but believe that for everything else, including paid prioritization, we are better off taking a “wait-and-see” approach; after all, we are just as likely to “see” new products and services as we are to see startup foreclosure. And, to be sure, this is an issue than can — and should, if the evidence changes — be visited again.

Ajit Pai and the FCC are not looking to address the issue of blocking with new laws and furthermore the article points out that the cornerstone of Ajit Pai’s proposals, the markets, aren’t competitive enough.

Another strong voice in support of the FCC proposals has been Mark Cuban, but he also mentions law changes :

Mark Cuban’s view isn’t exactly new, he waswriting about Net Neutrality all the way back in 2006 – Mark Cuban and the Chicken Little Netheads.

Meanwhile there’s also a lot of talk of scaremongering, that ISP’s won’t introduce fast lanes, if that’s the case then why are Ars Technica pointing out that Comcast deleted net neutrality pledge the same day FCC announced repeal :

Comcast deleted a “no paid prioritization” pledge from its net neutrality webpage on the very same day that the Federal Communications Commission announced its initial plan to repeal net neutrality rules.

This is pretty damning regarding the way that ISP’s may change their views on Net Neutrality in light of the proposed changes and seriously undermines Ajit Pai’s claims that there’s nothing to see here.

Philip Rosedale has also weighed into the debate, firmly on the side of Net Neutrality :

Again we see an issue that those on both sides of the debate acknowledge, the lack of competition. This is one of many reasons why Ajit Pai’s proposals need to be put on ice and further discussions are required.

There’s no simple answer here but pretty much going backwards to 2014 is in no way, shape or form a long term solution. Consumers like Net Neutrality and the protections that come with Title II. ISP’s on the other hand hate Title II, but keep saying they support Net Neutrality, even though their actions suggest otherwise, already.

The answer therefore has to be an ongoing dialogue whereby ISP’s, consumer representatives and the FCC work together to try and meet the needs of the different groups. There is no realistic way that a solution can be found that makes absolutely everyone happy, but with decent will there is a way forward that can make more people happy.

Back in 2015 Martin Cave and Ingo Vogelsang published a lengthy document, which is available in PDF format – Net Neutrality: an E.U./U.S. Comparison.

What’s interesting/frustrating about that document is that many of the issues that are being discussed today, are discussed in that document. This really should have been the starting point for the current round of discussions and development of new policies. The article makes an excellent point :

The two apparently simple policies have generated heated political controversies. Adopting one of them will leave large sections of the population and business community unsatisfied. This, at least from a political perspective, calls for a compromise, which would mean a more differentiated and thus more complex policy. In contrast to the simple policies, a complex policy would allow discrimination against CSPs based on specific criteria. This opens up many different policies and is likely to entail intricate design and monitoring issues. We suggested as an intermediate policy located between no and strict NN regulation to allow tiering based on publicly available tariffs that differentiate the various offerings.

A compromise is needed here, technology develops, new challenges come along, this isn’t 2014 anymore, going backwards is not remotely helpful but ignoring all the concerns of ISP’s isn’t helpful either. A compromise should be sought, or we’ll all be back here in two or three years time having the same old arguments, it’s time to move forward.

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