As today’s Day of Action on net neutrality draws to a close, I want to post a couple of thoughts from my FCC comment here.
First, it’s important to say that net neutrality is not the ideal solution, competition is. We do not enjoy the fruits of competition because of substantially captured agencies like the FCC and due to the heavy lobbying at state and city levels. Major ISPs claim to innovate as they write and support ever more burdensome regulations that greatly limit the ability of new entrants to compete, while the federal level has approved of so many mergers that the incumbents are almost entirely free of peer competition. Every notice how the flashy Charter and Comcast commercials pitch the same bundles year after year? Net neutrality is not the solution, but its presence is far preferable to its repeal.
Fundamentally, I want my ISP to be a dumb pipe. Many bristle at this, but, really, all that I want is for them to convey my page requests and uploads to the address I specified and to communicate the responses to me. No more, no less. Do this better than any (hypothetical) competitor and you have my business. I do not want my data being inspected for ad targeting, page modification, third party sale, etc., and I certainly do not want the pleasure of paying you multiple times to do your job. I don’t care for cable tv or phone service or your crappy jingle. Stop wasting money on advertising and improve your quality of service, this stuff is only as complicated as you make it. Your customers cannot escape your monopoly, as your industry’s worst overall consumer sentiment ranking shows every year.
I agree that encouraging or requiring every ISP to build out and maintain entirely parallel paths to each potential customer is a foolish and wasteful proposal, a telco strawman. Rather, we need local loop unbundling, whereby the infrastructure is separated from the customer service and features, just as Republic Wireless is permitted to operate on AT&T and Verizon networks. It is not out of nobility that AT&T and Verizon allow Republic’s use, but rather Congress’ recognition that spectrum is limited and should be leveraged to the greatest possible degree.
As Mike says, “So, the fight at the FCC matters, but the end game is Congress.” Big changes to make US ISPs competitive and efficient businesses cannot come without Congressional action or antitrust action, but we can try to prevent things from getting worse by supporting net neutrality. I cut the cord years ago because I could not justify the expense of cable tv nor bear the incessant inanity and banality of almost every channel, and I fear that giving the same cable and media companies the same control over the internet will result in the same destruction.
My FCC comment:
As a recently-graduated engineer, the internet is central to my work, hobbies, entertainment, and intellectual pursuits. Never before has such wealth been made so widely available, and never before has it reached so deeply into each user’s life. Expanding the equitable access to this body of knowledge and culture is a noble goal for the FCC to pursue, and while net neutrality is not the ideal mechanism to achieve this, its continuation is far preferable to its repeal.
Fundamentally, I want my ISP to be a dumb pipe. Many bristle at this, but, really, all that I want is for them to convey my page requests and uploads to the address I specified and to communicate the responses to me. No more, no less. Do this better than any (hypothetical) competitor and they’ll have my business. I do not want my data being inspected for ad targeting, page modification, third party sale, etc., and I certainly do not want to pay multiple times to ensure my data is safely and securely transmitted. My communications are extensions of myself, and when there is only a single provider to communicate them to the wider internet, that provider is in a position of power over me. I trust my ISP to accurately, impartially, and indeed ignorantly convey random inquiries, moments of frustration, deep conversations, cultural interactions, searches for truth, and experiences out of my past.
Only in the days of dial-up, pre-cable internet, did I enjoy service provider competition. Since then, living in Wisconsin and now California, there has only been a single broadband provider, Charter or Comcast. Any other internet service providers have been far too limited for regular use due to fundamental deficiencies in their technology. To keep the rate reasonable, as a college student I played the common game of threatening to cancel service so as to remain at introductory rates. It always amazes me that prices go up while the service stays constant. It also amazes me that the FCC, with subpoena authority, has no interest in the internal shifting of profits from ISP services to loss-leading tv and phone units, and takes consumer prices as remotely indicative of a healthy market. While Charter and Comcast continue to produce expensive, flashy commercials for the same crappy bundles, year after year, that tells me that their advertising is not performed for competitive reasons, and it certainly hasn’t improved their customer satisfaction rantings. Instead, they desire to maintain their image as being in and with the times, to dull the pain as they abuse us. Our country is neatly divided between the major ISPs, and until Congress gets its act together to force local loop unbundling, net neutrality and regulations like it are the only check on my local monopoly’s power.