The Net Neutrality Fight, One Year Later

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By Martin Bosworth

Today marked the first anniversary of the launch of the Save The Internet coalition, a massive multi-group effort that was brought together to support the cause of net neutrality, the principle that all Internet content should be accessible to all users equally, and no provider has the right to favor their offerings over another.

As I was a charter member of the coalition, I commemorated the event with an article, which you can read, if you’re interested. Some additional thoughts:

  • The Internet is one of the most fundamentally transformative technologies that has ever been invented. Thousands–hundreds of thousands–of new applications that no one ever considered (Web sites? Blogs? Wikis? Video over the Internet?) have blossomed and thrived because of those simple dumb protocols and fat dumb pipes. Unless there’s a massive global apocalypse that destroys all connectivity(which is possible), the generations after mine will never know a world without instant communication, and the ‘Net has made this possible.
  • The notion that some traffic should be prioritized over others makes perfect sense, and always has. Let people who have the money drive in the fast lane. Build the services that need fast traffic and let them flow. My reason for supporting net neutrality was the prospect that companies would push so hard to cherry-pick the richest neighborhoods for high-speed that anyone who couldn’t afford it would be left behind. That cannot–must not–be allowed. The Net, like all great ideas, has outgrown its originators, and belongs to us all now. It gives everyone a voice, and those voices need to be heard.
  • The ramping up of efforts by STI to defeat Joe Barton’s and Ted “It’s a series of tubes” Stevens’ odious telecom bills was some of the best work I’ve ever done in my life. Net neutrality is actually a very easy concept to understand, but the debate was constantly being clouded by cheesy astroturf groups and hack shills left, right, and center. You had to break it down to people in the simplest terms possible–“We want to keep the Internet as it is, and these guys are out to make you pay more for less content”–and listeners’ eyes would light up, and they’d say “Oh, my God! That’s terrible! What can I do to help?” It was an object lesson in how the truth will always win out, no matter how hard you try to bury it.

I’m certainly not foolish enough to believe the fight is over–far from it–but I am glad we held the line as we did, and that the Internet chugs along unfettered, unrestricted, and uncontrolled (for the most part). Its potential is something well worth fighting for.

7 replies »

  1. A buddy of mine, who works in the telecom sector, and who’s usually right on most all telecom issues, swears he can prove to me that NN is a bad idea. He hasn’t, yet, but as always I’m open to hearing reasoned argument. In the meantime, it’s impossible not to respect the work that you guys have done. Good job.

  2. Brian & Sam: Thank you both. It’s been well worth it.

    Darren: The problem is that the market forces at play are inherently distorting and uncompetitive. Telecoms like AT&T and Verizon have used billions of dollars of government subsidies to build their empires, and have returned the favor by failing to deliver broadband to the home for ten years, as they promised they would. Now that it’s finally happening, they’re using cheap skirting tactics like using copper wire for the last mile (AT&T) or focusing solely on rich, single-family communities to roll out their triple-play efforts (Verizon).

    In order to make this happen, they have to spend lots of money. That pisses off the shareholders. So they want to gouge content providers–and consumers, by extension–for more fees.

    NN laws aren’t the same thing as actively regulating the Internet. In this case, it is more of an assurance that the playing field will remain level, and the buyers will determine what services really work and what don’t.

  3. I am not sure what you mean when you say that net neutrality will not be used to “actively” regulate the internet. Yes, these laws won’t be used to watch and control what people do on the internet, but the laws will add rules regarding the way internet providers will be allowed to use their networks. In other words, these laws add *government regulation* to the internet. Proponents of net neutrality like to avoid those two words, but that’s really what we’re talking about.

    I agree that it is wrong for our government to subsidize the telecommunication industry, or any industry for that matter. However, do you think it’s honest to say that “empires” such as AT&T and Verizon have been built with government dollars? If one were to go through the books of these companies since their founding, do you really believe that the majority of their financing will be payments or other giveaways from the government? I don’t mean to offend, but I think that your statement is a gross exaggeration. These companies, whether you like them or not, earn their profits by offering their services to customers who pay for them.

    I also don’t understand why you fault telecoms want to “gouge” content providers and their customers for more money when you also admit that it will cost a lot of money to bring broadband to all homes. If it costs billions of dollars to build a quality network that provides everyone with broadband, shouldn’t the business try to recover their costs? How will they survive if they don’t?

    I think that the issue of net neutrality comes down the issue of property rights. I believe that people should be able to own property and control what is done with that property, so long as their use of their property does not prevent others from exercising their own rights. If that principle is applied to the issue of who should control the the telecom companies’ property, the answer is clear: The telecom companies.

    If a telecom company uses bad wire, restricts its service to only rich neighborhoods, slows down its customers’ access to some sites, or anything else that would result in bad service and angry customers, the company does so at its own peril. Any company that does not give its customers what it wants is doomed to fail. Business can’t survive without making enough money to pay their expenses, and nobody will invest in their business if there is not a chance of making a profit.

    If you believe that “the buyers will determine what services really work and what don’t” you should be against net neutrality or any other government regulation that takes the internet out of the free market.