Writer Andrew Jerell Jones also points out how Comcast-owned NBC News, CNBC and MSNBC can rarely be bothered to reveal their parent company’s lobbying on this subject, or in fact cover net neutrality in their news reporting much at all. Even purportedly “progressive” MSNBC has been frequently criticized for rarely talking about the subject.
The 2015 Order famously outlined clear net neutrality rules. But those rules only passed muster because the Order also explicitly classified broadband service as a “common carrier” service, regulated by Title II of the Communications Act, rather than an “information service” regulated by Title I of the same Act. And that classification has several corollary effects, because Title II isn’t just about net neutrality. It is also meant to curtail the anti-competitive conduct from incumbent monopolists like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. In essence, as common carriers, they are not able to use their power to control the Internet experience, and they are not able to directly harm their competitors in the broadband market.
Google Fiber’s deployment ran into snags in Austin, Texas when those poles were owned by AT&T, because the surest way to prevent competition is to just physically prevent their entry into your market. If a company the size of Google could be stifled without the law supporting them, what hope does a smaller ISP have in entering into a market where the incumbent broadband provider owns the poles that are a necessary component to deploying the network? The FCC Chairman’s plan fundamentally ignores this problem and offers no clear solution to competitors. An incumbent broadband provider that owns a lot of the poles is going to have no federal legal obligation to share that access at fair market rates if broadband is no longer a common carrier service.
New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: “We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law.”
See the problem? If people begin noticing that there’s no competition, that Americans are paying too much for too little, and that the entire country is suffering as a result, that’s a big problem for Big Cable.
What really matters is whether, someday, we’ll take on as a country the issue of the dismal state of high-speed internet access in America. If the Title II reclassification holds, it’s more likely that we will take that step sooner. And the carriers know that.
In Atlanta, for example, Comcast provided hourly median download speeds over a CDN called GTT of 21.4 megabits per second at 7pm throughout the month of May. AT&T provided speeds over the same network of ⅕ of a megabit per second. When a network sends more than twice the traffic it receives, that network is required by AT&T to pay for the privilege. When quizzed about slow speeds on GTT, AT&T told Ars Technica earlier this year that it wouldn’t upgrade capacity to a CDN that saw that much outgoing traffic until it saw some money from that network (as distinct from the money it sees from consumers).
The legislation, introduced by Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, is called a resolution of disapproval, a move that allows Congress to review new federal regulations from government agencies, using an expedited legislative process.
Frustrated over the number of Internet providers that are available to you? If so, you’re like many who are limited to just a handful of broadband companies. But now President Obama wants to change that, arguing that choice and competition are lacking in the U.S. broadband market. On Wednesday, Obama will unveil a series of measures aimed at making high-speed Web connections cheaper and more widely available to millions of Americans. The announcement will focus chiefly on efforts by cities to build their own alternatives to major Internet providers such as Comcast, Verizon or AT&T — a public option for Internet access, you could say.
In a plan released today, Obama said, “The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance [as the traditional telephone system] and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act—while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone—not just one or two companies.”
Reclassification of broadband service is almost certain to bring lawsuits from the telecommunications industry.
Network neutrality came from the telephone business. With electronic phone switching (analog, not digital) it was possible to give phone company customers who were willing to pay more priority access to trunk lines, avoiding the dreaded “all circuits are busy, please try your call again later.” Alas, some folks almost never got a circuit, so the FCC put a halt to that practice by mandating what it called “network neutrality” – first-come, first-served access to the voice network. When the commercial Internet came along, network neutrality was extended to digital data services, lately over the objection of telcos and big ISPs like Comcast, and the FCC is now about to expand those rules a bit more, which was in this week’s news. But to give network neutrality the proper context, we really should go back to that original analog voice example, because there are more details there worth telling.
Consider this: A single fiber-optic strand the diameter of a human hair can carry 101.7 terabits of data per second, enough to support nearly every Netflix subscriber watching content in HD at the same time. And while technology has improved and capacity has increased, costs have continued to decline. A few more shelves of equipment might be needed in the buildings that house interconnection points, but broadband itself is as limitless as its uses.
We’ll never realize broadband’s potential if large ISPs erect a pay-to-play system that charges both the sender and receiver for the same content. That’s why we at Netflix are so vocal about the need for strong net neutrality, which for us means ISPs should enable equal access to content without favoring, impeding, or charging particular content providers. Those practices would stunt innovation and competition and hold back the broader development of the Internet and the economic benefits it brings.
This is the reason we have opposed Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Comcast has already shown the ability to use its market position to require access fees, as evidenced by the Netflix congestion that cleared up as soon as we reached an agreement with them. A combined company that controls over half of US residential Internet connections would have even greater incentive to wield this power.