Net neutrality, TV, and what the smart people forget to tell you

People are rightly concerned about recent FCC statements about Net Neutrality. A lot of people, way smarter than me, discuss the regulatory and technology issues much better than me. My focus is on some of the basics which are pretty much always forgotten in Washington, even by some very smart people.

net neutrality

(Folks, please note I speak only for myself, not for any org that I started or anything else.)

Personal bottom line: I love TV, and looking forward to getting the good stuff via Internet services like Netflix and Amazon. Looks like a big ISP has already messed around with that, and I don’t know if we can trust the big ISPs to keep their promises.

That’s the big forgotten issue: can we trust telecoms, cable companies, and big ISPs to do what they promise to do?

You probably know the answer to that, considering broken promises, and that ISPs and telecoms often think it’s okay to break promises.

For that matter, the big guys seem to have forgotten that they make money using public property, like radio airwaves and rights of way, like where they bury cables or provide cell phone service. I feel that the American people expect the telecoms to embrace basic American values, like playing fair, like being trustworthy.

Sascha Meinrath says it well “we are the landlords and we have expected norms for the tenants of our property.”

We’re not really talking “regulation,” just enforcing the terms of the social contract between Americans and the telecoms who have the privilege of using our stuff for big profit.

Please remember that The Internet has worked really well for around thirty years with a Net Neutrality-based social contract.

If it works, don’t break it.

Bonus: an Internet-based movement emerged, a few years ago, to defeat some really bad law, SOPA. I’ve been quietly pushing the idea that we need that movement to emerge again, and become a permanent part of the US political landscape. This is the time.


7 thoughts on “Net neutrality, TV, and what the smart people forget to tell you

  1. Good commonsense comment. Something as important as an open Internet that operates without discrimination should not be left to trusting big telecom companies that have a poor record of trust. The FCC needs to do the obvious: treat the Internet as a common carrier so there can be no discrimination.

    I was one of those who started the encampment outside the FCC when news of the proposed tiered Internet based on fees leaked. We’ve moved the agenda in our direction – with lots of groups pushing on this issue — now we have to keep pushing. Here’s our latest article describing the choice the FCC has to make:

    Thanks for you commonsense comment!



  2. Nice post. Let’s hope the FCC gets their act together, unfortunately not enough people know that this is even happening, nor do they understand it even though it’s quite simple.

    I just ordered a #NetNeutrality flag in hopes that I can make my neighbood more aware.

    It will be really sad if true net neutrality goes away.



  3. Craig… Thanks for posting but this is something I am really wrestling with. As someone that co-founded one of the first ISPs (The Little Garden) and various Internet based companies since, I was able to directly leverage that the Internet was wide-open to develop on by anyone with a connection to it. I certainly did not want to see regulation of what were were doing as I know that many time regulation is badly written and eventually is worked around.

    The scene has changed in the last twenty years. We are demanding speeds that far outstrip those days of dial up modems. This means that companies have to put in infrastructure to support this demand like cable and fiber. Alas, with the legacy of how we legalized the monopolies of the telephone and cable companies we are in a bit of a quandary as for most of the country, there isn’t true competition for the last mile. This means that last mile providers can exploit bandwidth shaping/prioritization based on business deals and not guarantee “best effort” for all content providers.

    What can we do to incentivize “best effort” to put everyone back on a level playing field again? One idea that can help is to provide last mile competition. This is something I am trying to work with the City of SF to do by installing last mile fiber that goes back to a data center (eg, 200 Paul) where residents of SF can pick their ISP. This is an expensive, time consuming and is a political minefield. I can’t say it will get done.

    The other “solution” is regulation.

    What can you suggest?



    1. As the first wireless ISP (WISP), I can say with assurance that regulation under the inappropriate, outdated provisions of Title II of the telecom act would shutter competitive ISPs. We couldn’t deal with the paperwork burden; couldn’t get investors for our hamstrung, heavily regulated companies with little chance to make a return on their investment; couldn’t provide service that users want and need; couldn’t innovate. Promote lots of private competition (not government competition with private enterprise) and let the market sort things out.


  4. The government of our country seems like it is controlled by the Chamber of Commerce. I woke up one day and realized that our airwaves, right of ways, and public lands our tax dollars support have been sold or leased for peanuts and mined for gold. The internet should be free. This looks like another means of gleaning from folks that just don’t have the money and will never have complete access.
    Thanks Craig for your service,


  5. First, all bits are not created equal. The 4K version of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s eyebrow in Die Hard as it lifts is not as important a set of bits as an email listing requirements for drought relief from a remote outpost sent by Medecin Sans Frontiers. Nor could it ever be.

    So that slogan, and that goal, are wrong, and in that wrongness rests the danger to us all: A commercial priority system that takes no human values into account at all, created by default because no one acknowledged that “type of service” bits have been in the Internet Protocol from the beginning.

    The issue here is commercial competition and direct payment as a means of accelerating traffic at the expense of other traffic. The goal is to prevent such things as political candidates who take ComCast positions having their websites and video appear perfectly, as political candidates who take none see their traffic slow down, stall, cut off and fail…

    The core issue is censorship, and some bogus equality between bits is not the objective.

    It could never be achieved anyway: In the long run, bottlenecks must exist if only because switching points are few and subsea fiber optic cable is expensive to run, we only upgrade the wires to the buildings about every 30 to 50 years, and spectrum is limited… not to mention that 4K video hogs bandwidth…

    How we deal with these bottlenecks is a question of human values, not bogus equality of bits, and not paid bribes. If we fail to treat this as a political issue, with the goal being a set of traffic priorities we can all agree are fair, we will fail and see pay-to-route become normal.

    Read Karl Auerbach on these questions, he was on it all along…


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