FCC Boot - With A Light Touch

Let’s bring some perspective here. People have become hysterical. They are DEMANDING Net Neutrality. Now. Right NOW. But, wait a second… they already have it. Right now, we all enjoy a neutral net. It’s here. It exists. It’s alive. And it’s fucking fantastic.

Bless their hearts. Net Neutrality advocates have good intentions. They are typically very intelligent, sophisticated, and they obviously care enough to get involved in bringing about a better world. I hope that this article will help some of them realize that they are fighting to destroy their own goal. They are fighting for their enemy.

Our Enemy. We all have a common enemy here, because we all have a common goal. Everyone on all sides of this debate wants the same thing, an open and free Internet.

Just like Castro’s army and Lenin’s army gathered followers blissfully marching for their future freedom and prosperity only to later become shocked in horror, Net Neutrality Advocates will soon realize that they are marching and singing in support of The Boot. This boot stomps without precision, without emotion, without representation.

My friends, now is a time to stop and reflect. Before we continue fighting, let’s briefly go over this issue so we can understand the perspectives.

There is no truly free country left on this planet. That’s becoming less of a problem, because, we have the Internet. The Internet, as it is right now, is humanity’s last bastion of pure freedom. We plug in, we say what we like, we view what we like, we play, we connect, we share, we learn, we grow.

It is incredible how much the Internet has already changed our lives. And the possibilities for the future are astonishing.

The Internet is currently almost completely unregulated by our government. There’s no government regulating our content, our activity, or our Internet connections.

So what is Net Neutrality? And why is it so important?

Senator Al Franken has said that “Net Neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time.”

Moby is really concerned about it. He was crying about the threat 4.5 years ago.

Replace the word Neutrality with Equality and you’ll understand what this is about. Regulating equality. This is an old war. This has nothing to do with any facts, real results, or any harm actually caused by Internet Service Providers. This whole issue is just another proxy battle in a long war between advocates of individual liberty and advocates of social equality.

FACT: The Net Neutrality cause is a response to a hypothetical problem. We’ve never had this problem. It’s a hypothesis, by those who are simply afraid of business. They’ve confused a ton of people and got them all riled up. Let me let them explain their concerns in their own words through some visual diagrams from http://www.theopeninter.net/

Open Internet Before

Click to Enlarge - The Internet now and as it's always been

Open Internet After

Click to Enlarge - Scary propaganda against Business about their intent for the Internet of the future

So… greedy companies “might” restrict us from things, or they “might” prioritize content delivery to the highest payer. We need to give the government the authority to regulate the Internet for the first time ever in order to protect us from what alarmists think companies “might” do.

So the logic for Net Neutrality legislation is that we need to regulate the Internet in order to keep it free. Yes that is the logic.

Yes, that really is the logic. This IS NOT a debate about whether the Internet should remain open and free. WE ALL want that. This is ONLY a debate about whether control over our access should be in the hands of Internet Service Provider companies (ISPs) or… the Government.

Let us explore that, shall we?

It is hard to free fools from the chains they revere.
— Voltaire

ISPs VS Government

ISP companies provide access to the Internet. They’re profiting, so many assume they’re only out to rip us off and take our money.

No one needs to explain how valuable internet access is to our lives. But let us remember a few things:
Remember when we actually had to print out flyers and make a bunch of phone calls to throw a big party?
Remember driving without Nav-Traffic on our phones?
Remember when we had to go to the news stand to get magazines (!) for current info on our favorite topics?
Remember when the only way you found out your friend also loves Pink Floyd is when he actually told you?
Does anyone remember making mix tapes, before we had online access to music, videos and pictures, games and fun interesting sites and blogs (like Hustle Bear)?
And of course, how much less productive were we all way back when, even before 28k dial-up, without email (remember the fax?), online research, and collaboration tools?
Rather than disconnecting us, commonly available internet access has enabled us to become tremendously more connected to each other, tremendously more productive, and tremendously more entertained than anything else in human history. The ISPs have set us all up with a sweet bargain.

stop sign in the midwest in the middle of nowhereIt’s amazing how some of the most intense internet users are unwilling to give ISPs credit for anything. At great expense of Billions of dollars, ISPs have laid down and installed cable to our homes. Almost everyone now has access to simple high speed broadband for $20 to $30/month (I pay $45/month for higher speed cable access, and it’s soooo worth it). One problem with the diagram above is that our homes are not connected to just one big ISP. The FCC’s own data shows that as of June 2008, 98 percent of zip codes have at least 2 broadband providers, and 88% of zip codes have at least 4 broadband providers. You can even still get unlimited slower dial up internet access for like $10/month if you’ve got a home phone line. And most people have access to 3g wireless internet, and very soon even higher speed 4g wireless internet.

What is with the vilification of ISPs? Has everyone totally forgotten that none of us would have internet access if ISPs didn’t invest the billions, the energy, and the years of coordinating to bring us all internet access conveniently and cheaply?
ISPs ARE NOT our enemy. They certainly should not be feared. Thank god for them. Really. Think about it.

Claiming that Internet Service Providers represent a threat to internet openness is like some Orwellian double speak. Broadband providers ARE what opens the internet to us. Chaining them with regulations is what threatens their ability to open the internet to us.

What we need to understand is that while ISPs aren’t currently regulated by the government, they are already severely regulated. Not by government. They are regulated by YOU. You are their customer. You are the boss. You hold the checkbook. ISP companies are regulated by profits. That’s right, profit is the regulator. Like every company that is in business for profit, they have to answer to their customers. All successful businesses are constantly sniffing; trying to figure out what customers want. Profit makes them care about you. Customers will only voluntarily hand over money if it’s worth it. Right now we have de-facto Net Neutrality, because that’s what you want. That’s what we all want. We have to understand that the Internet has evolved by virtue of the decisions of billions of users and content creators. If you are on Facebook, you are a content creator. ISPs have responded to our needs and continually invest tremendous money and resources to provide better options. They ARE answerable to you, and thus they ARE highly regulated by you.

As demonstrated by the history and progress of America and other (even more) free market economies, these fears against businesses seeking profit have shown themselves to be unfounded. Profit seeking is our protection. If customers want a neutral net and an ISP attempts to block access, the ISP will suffer until they’ve learned their lesson. Comcast DID briefly attempt to slow down illegal file sharing (via BitTorrent protocol) that was overwhelming their cable lines with massive traffic. Comcast caved to increasing consumer complaints and bad press well before the FCC issued any order. De-facto net neutrality was restored. That’s the power of a free market.

The government… they don’t bend so easily

If we can’t trust people with freedom, how can we trust them with power?
- Anonymous

As for the FCC, they haven’t given us access to anything. They’ve only spent our money. On what? Well, they were formed to license out our limited radio spectrum to radio stations. They’ve since overstepped that authority and moved on to censoring radio, and then TV. They have no authority to regulate the Internet, but that’s where tech is obviously moving. If they don’t step into internet regulation, their agency will be rendered useless in short time. So this small body of bureaucrats will be downsized out of business soon, but can keep their jobs if they start making decisions about the future of the Internet. I don’t blame them. When your options are fuck or die, what are you going to do?? The FCC is not in the business of making profit. They get paid whether they do a good job for you or not. They don’t have to care about you, or all the customers for that matter. Forcing bureaucrats to respond to our requests is SO MUCH more difficult than forcing companies to respond. With companies, customers quickly desert them for a better value, forcing companies to quickly change course (Windows Vista, Volvo, the old Apple Macintosh, etc.). With bureaucracies, you’ve got to wait for the next election cycle, contribute a lot of campaign funds, pester all your friends to join your cause, and then… hope.

And, who’s regulating the FCC? The fate of several hundred million American internet users should reside in the decisions of what a small panel of appointed bureaucrats decide is best for us all? The rules can be pretty vague. The FCC will decide these matters on a case by case basis.

Where's The FireWhere’s the fire??

It’s petty to complain about things that have never been a serious problem. Usually you institute regulations AFTER an industry has been shown to violate us. In this case we are fighting over hypotheticals.

Well I’ve got a hypothetical for you. The FCC needs to survive. It starts regulating ISPs to impose Net Neutrality and ensure that they don’t prioritize content. The FCC makes exceptions for spam. Obviously it’s ok for the ISPs to restrict spam. Soon, under pressure from Homeland Security, the FCC begins monitoring and censoring illegitimate online content, such as Wikileaks. They assure us they aren’t here to censor the Internet, as long as the content is legitimate. Then the FCC, under pressure from major media conglomerates, forces ISPs to restrict access to pirated material. The ISPs complain that the burden is just too large for them to monitor and track pirated material. That’s quite alright, because the FCC will help with that too. They can hire a bunch of bureaucrats (at our expense) to simply monitor and censor only pirated material “with a light touch“. Then it comes to be one day soon that it only takes a 3-2 ruling for the FCC to start censoring pornographic and other objectionable content, without needing a public vote. Like with TV and Radio, children need to be protected, and a large portion of the public want this protection. The religious right and politically correct left have found common ground. Be careful not to say “fuck” on your blog or in the forums, it’s objectionable. Our whole internet experience is reduced to the intellectual level of a Barney episode. The former Net Neutrality advocates are OUTRAGED. They are screaming, “We didn’t intend this!!” “The FCC was going to regulate WITH A LIGHT TOUCH!”

Sound far-fetched? Read FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s own words on the government website www.openinternet.gov:

…And this principle will not constrain efforts to ensure a safe, secure, and spam-free Internet experience, or to enforce the law. It is vital that illegal conduct be curtailed on the Internet. As I said in my Senate confirmation hearing, open Internet principles apply only to lawful content, services and applications — not to activities like unlawful distribution of copyrighted works, which has serious economic consequences. The enforcement of copyright and other laws and the obligations of network openness can and must co-exist.
- FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski

If you enjoy access to controversial content such as sensitive government data from Wikileaks, or file sharing of copyrighted material, and you believe the government will be on your side to protect your access, you are simply mistaken.

Once our open and free internet is out of the market’s hands and protected in the hands of government officials, there’s all sorts of other things our government can protect us from. To quote from a new Washington Post article:

“Venezuela President Hugo Chavez’s congressional allies are considering extending the ‘Social Responsibility Law’ for broadcast media to the Internet, banning messages that ‘disrespect public authorities,’ ‘incite or promote hatred’ or crimes, or are aimed at creating ‘anxiety’ in the population.”

But… that’s Venezuela were talking about. That shit could never happen here.

Oh.

Really?

Then what the fuck is THIS??

S.3480 – Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010. Sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman. “Creates the Office of Cyberspace Policy and National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications to set standards and coordinate cybersecurity efforts within the government. Gives the NCCC broad powers…”
This new Senate bill proposes to give the president the authority “to seize control of or even shut down portions of the Internet“.

Now if we’re going to pre-emptively legislate based on hypotheticals, which hypothetical scenario is more likely? The FCC overstepping its current authority, or ISPs delivering services that its customers are not happy about?

404 Fire Truck - Fire Not FoundNotice that the FCC took a vote on this just before Christmas when Congress is not in session and a lot less people are paying attention. Also note that they never had any authority to start making rules about the internet. They are already acting tyrannically. Already the new rules agreed to by the 3-2 ruling are confusing people and mystifying even Net Neutrality advocates. No one is happy about it. Even the paranoid zealots at SaveTheInternet.com are upset. It’s just beginning.

The scariest thing is actually what will happen to the ISPs as they become more answerable to government bureaucrats and less answerable to customers. Government power distorts businesses, turning them into the menacing form of corporations we all hate. The ISPs will have to step up their lobbying to survive, that is when they will blatantly attempt to get politicians in their pocket, and that is when they will begin caring more about political dominance and less about our user experience. All the money, time, and energy “invested” in lobbying and lawyers isn’t invested in building our high speed tech future. The ISPs have already spent over $40 Million of customer revenues to lobby in Washington on this matter. How much more customer revenue should they divert to fighting Net Neutrality advocates?

If we want business to stop interfering in politics, we need politics to stop interfering with business.

But hopefully this nightmare can be aborted before it is born.

From a recent article at Reason.com:

“Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that the FCC had no Congressionally granted authority to regulate network management. Congress hasn’t updated the agency’s authority over the Net since then, but the FCC is now saying that, well, it has the authority anyway. [Chairman] Genachowski’s team has come up with a different legal justification, and they’re betting that this time around they can convince a judge to buy it.”

A bunch of Republicans in congress are vowing to defeat this new ruling. I will admit that unless the Republicans have truly altered course (maybe they have), I am personally afraid of them being our line of defense for the future of free speech and an actual open internet.

The FCC

Should these guys decide the future of our internet?

The FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is promising to regulate with a “Light Touch“. The same agency that censors radio and TV broadcasting with a “Light Touch” by throwing a big fit and leveling massive fines disproportionate to the “crime“.
(CBS is still fighting the FCC over the fine for Janet Jackson’s split second nipple slip)

Let’s let our ISPs (wireless and wired) be free and motivated to continue their heavy investment towards the future evolution of the Internet. The public good is not served by doing things to discourage massive future internet investment.

Even if; even if we get the terrible nightmare hypothesis feared in all the Net Neutrality propaganda of ISPs offering higher level of services to people willing to pay more for it, well that’s not really so horrible, and certainly not justification to start regulating. All great technologies enjoyed by the common man today started out as luxuries for the few; heated running water, the automobile, the telephone, the cell phone. Sometimes that is the necessary approach to fund technological development. Imagine if early in this century our government passed “Transportation Neutrality” laws ensuring that no one travel faster and more comfortably than another simply because they pay more for it. The automobile industry would never have gotten off the ground, and automobiles would not be accessible to the masses today. WHO KNOWS how the Internet will develop and progress? It would be so foolish to get in the way of the companies investing in our future and bringing value far above the price they are charging.

Don’t let people scare you about the ISPS. The sky is not falling. Our internet is not going to be ruined. Unless… Government gets its boot in the door.

big brother is watching youNet Neutrality is the doorway to regulate the Internet. The intent of the legislation is to keep the Internet free and open. But the result of imposing legislation makes the Internet less free and open.

We MUST stop judging government policies by their intentions and start judging them by their results.

Intentions may change.
Regulatory structures rarely do.

Regulation = Freedom only in George Orwell’s 1984. Central authority monitoring does not lead to “openness”. Burdening the Internet service providers with extra hoops for oversight and regulation will not ensure a brighter future for our internet and its ongoing evolution.

Regulations are a tax. We all pay for a company’s massive loss of efficiency needed to deal with regulations. It might be worth it when we are protecting our air and drinking water, but it is SILLY when we’re paying it to protect us from a problem that never happened.

Do companies who invest their time, energy and money providing us access have a right to a voice here? What do the ISPs have to say?

ATT says:
“[We disagree with the need for Net Neutrality regulation] especially given the utter absence of any evidence that abuses are occurring in the Internet market, let alone any of the gravity to justify government intervention. … Too often, well-funded ideologues have used intimidation, vilification, and fear-mongering to advance their goal that government control the Internet and other forms of communication without regard for their impact on the jobs and livelihoods of millions already challenged by a difficult economy.”

Verizon says:
“The FCC appears to assert broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband wireline and wireless networks and the Internet itself. This assertion of authority without solid statutory underpinnings will yield continued uncertainty for industry, innovators, and investors. In the long run, that is harmful to consumers and the nation.”
(Verizon has always held this position)

Is that greedy profit seeking nonsense, or is that actually correct?
These statements from the ISPs are especially bold considering they are concerning their potential future masters who can jeopardize the Billions of dollars they’ve already spent on their infrastructure.

Indeed a new Slate Magazine article states that “the new rules could in particular upend the best engine of innovation the struggling economy currently has.”

When you run at the speed of Congress it is hard to keep up with Moore’s Law.
- Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems

 The solution to a problem that doesn’t exist IS the problem.

 

Senator Al Franken Supports Net Neutrality and Co-Sponsors PIPA

At least Al Franken is consistent!

Senator Al Franken might be right. Net Neutrality might become the most important free speech issue of our time, IF we follow his advice.

When you hear Net Neutrality arguments, pay attention to the unintended consequences of their good intentions.

Remember: This isn’t an argument about having a free open internet. This is an argument about whether our central government planners should be given the power to start regulating it.

Ultimately this is an old ideological battle playing out again, between those afraid of the free market and those afraid of government intervention.

If you look around at all the problems with our country, they are caused less by outside aggressors and mostly by ourselves. If we want to improve things we need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. An unregulated free Internet is just too important to harm.

The Internet has none of the problems that Net Neutrality advocates are wailing about. And yet for the last 5 years the Net Neutrality movement has been furiously demanding immediate government action, constantly scaring people with impending doom if we don’t act RIGHT NOW PEOPLE, RIGHT NOW!! And yet they are clutching at trivial examples to justify the need to SAVE THE INTERNET! The 2 million strong coalition to save the Internet is nothing more than an embarrassment, demonstrating that it is still possible in this day and age to whip people up into a passionate frenzy over vague confusion.

It’s one or the other, Regulation or Freedom. Ask yourself which you support.

When they tell you we need to impose regulation to keep the Internet free, tell them we need to prevent regulation to keep the Internet free.

The Internet doesn’t need to be saved by bureaucrats. We don’t want their protection.

 
 

Here are 2 fantastic videos created by Reason TV that clearly explain this issue:

 
Please share and spread this article so we can put a stop to this silliness.

 

(ps. If you have a legitimate disagreement, please share it. Through open discussion we can find a solution to our common goal. But if you ignore the points here and have the urge to publicly dismiss this article on online forums as “must have been paid for by the ISPs”, please would you be so kind and shoot yourself so your genes don’t pollute the future of humanity. Thank you.)

 

 
 
1/28/2011 UPDATE from Egypt:
“The Internet blackout in Egypt shows that a country with strong control over its Internet providers apparently can force all of them to pull their plugs at once”

 
 
1/20/2012 The recent SOPA/PIPA legislation controversy validates the dangers I warned about in this article. We do not want government regulating our internet experience.