The “Battle for the Net” day of action was yesterday. A lot of non ISP internet-centric companies, personalities and organisations campaigned hard to get the average user to take action. Forms got filled in, members of the government were called, emailed, spoken to, all in an attempt to avoid the FCC reclassifying the Internet from the ‘utility’ descriptor, and all the associated legalities of being declared a ‘Title II common carrier’. I don’t think that this was a good thing.
I know that I’ve just alienated at least three quarters, if not all, of people that actually read this thing, and enraged a good portion of said alienated people. But what I ask is that you hear me out.
Title II is part of the Communications Act of 1934, and the relevant areas of the act state that, by default, no discrimination can be bought, sought or brought upon services provided by ISPs, when they can be distributed to all people connected to that network.
I would like to begin my explanation by simply stating this: Using an Act that was brought into law, with the same initial provisions, in 1934 is not reflective of the way that the Internet was developed, or exists today, let alone in five, ten or fifty years as part of best efforts of futureproofing. Furthermore, this Act doesn’t have ‘relevant’ or ‘applicable’ protections. They all apply. The same that apply to your phone, electricity provider, gas provider and water provider. In addition to that, your sewage provider is also protected. Also, roller coasters were, for half a decade, declared common carriers in certain states. There are countless ‘common carriers’, that do not have the nuance of the Internet, because the Act, that bears repeating, was written in 1934. The Act is outdated for the protections it is being used to offer.
I believe at a core level, that all bits should be treated equal; that unless explicitly stated and a neutral undiscriminated service is offered otherwise, there should be no means or method offered to discriminate against data packets beyond what protocol they use. Why that last caveat? I’d rather have my VOIP/VOD/gaming traffic a little faster than say, torrents or FTP. Common carrier provisions are worded so that traffic shaping is not meant to happen, but it does because it’s a necessary evil. The FCC recommended throttling the top 5% of users – the same FCC that is governing and those Title II provisions that are being so vociferously fought for, in direct violation of the current Title II provisions.
I’d also like to invoke the case of Netflix to explain. Netflix, in 2015, accounted for 37% of internet traffic during peak hours in North America. Under common carrier provisions, they cannot be charged for this accounting of traffic despite how all of HTTP traffic accounted for just 6%. Youtube accounted for 18%, and BitTorrent, that big baddie ‘theft protocol’ that every ISP was trying to throttle a decade ago? 3%. In comparison, Netflix accounted for six times the traffic than ALL torrenters combined, but nobody mentions the people streaming Iron Fist or Orange is the New Black; just the people hitting their personal data caps.
All that traffic has to be supported somehow, and all that Netflix have to do is make sure they have the bandwidth to meet this demand in their CDN plan. In the simplest of terms, that their data pipe is wide enough. The ISPs have to mutually keep all their pipes wide enough, without leaks, and somehow direct each individual ‘drop’ of data is getting where it needs to go by keeping it’s incredibly detailed pipe map up to date with various routing protocols and such. But only a few pipe providers get money from Netflix, meaning that most have to bear the burden as part of their infrastructure, or buckle under the pressure. Also, Netflix deliberately throttled their own data to make the situation worse. Or was it because the throttled parties had competing video services?
There was a time when Netflix paid these providers, but under common carrier provisions they no longer have to, regardless of whether they do or not. Same with Google, Youtube, Amazon, and almost every media company that is encouraging the average user to fight Ajit “I oppose Title II” Pai and his band of FCC goons. As a refutation, the full statement was:
“I think the issue is pretty simple. I favor a free and open Internet and I oppose Title II. That’s pretty much all I can say about that topic.”
My final point of contention is that the consumers are paying for this problem, and not just those that are using the data-intensive services. The average US internet connection was priced at $39 per month in 2008. This has increased to over $65 in 2016. That’s an increase of roughly 67%, when inflation has only been 11% in the same timeframe. This money has been used to pay for legal fights against the media companies and tech giants that want to reduce their bottom line. Some of that is greed due to monopoly, and that is unacceptable behaviour, but some of it is now being used to pay for infrastructure that was otherwise previously paid for by the people that used it. I’d rather save on my ISP and spend more on a Netflix subscription, than the other way around.
My point is that the protections offered under Title II provisions are outdated, and it supports the media giants that are just getting bigger and bigger because they don’t pay for their piece of the data usage pie; that average internet user that signed the form, called their representatives and so forth are, whether or not they use the services that require it.
There was a bill called the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, that would’ve done the job and to a far better degree. It would have been an amendment to the Clayton Antitrust Act, meaning that the public was protected as opposed to the private enterprises. They would’ve had to pay for their fair share, and then either monetised further, or passed the costs to their consumers as opposed to internet users et al. What happened to it? It was approved, but was never taken up on the floor of the House of Representatives. I’m not seasoned in US politics, but I know that the Democrats took the house after the 2006 midterm election, and I believe they could have run with it. They chose not to, because the media is their backbone.
For those that took part in the day of action, I do not blame you, and I applaud your conviction. You’re fighting to protect something dear to you and to me; the sanctity of the level playing field that is the Internet. But it is the desire to win at whatever cost to all, that personifies the Left and, by extension, the Democratic Party (hence the Title II protections), hence their candidacy and election shenanigans in 2016, and hence their blatant desire to keep this situation as it is.
I’ll end with a quote from Daniel Ellsberg, from Hearts and Minds, a 1974 documentary centred around the Vietnam War. It’s applicable now as it was then, but I would say the definition of ‘leaders’ has expanded vastly.
“It’s a tribute to the American public that their leaders perceived that they had to be lied to. It’s no tribute to us that it was so easy to fool the public.”