Sunday, April 27, 2014

We Need to Raise a Stink about Net Neutrality

Image showing the base price of a fake company's DSL connection, with add-on pricing for access to groups of web sites, such as streaming sites, news sites, shopping sites, etc.
Found this on the Twitters in @CypherTheDane's tweet. Read a full-text version of this graphic.

In January I wrote about the latest risk to net neutrality here in the U.S (Net Neutrality News). Unsurprisingly, the only change since then is that net neutrality is more at risk, despite some brief outcry and even a million-signature petition.

You should care. We should all care. Remember, it's just a matter of time before that thing you like to do on the Internet is throttled down to painfully slow in favor of that other thing you don't like on the Internet.

Want to play a video game with your friends? Maybe Microsoft is paying to prioritize its XBox traffic over your Sony Playstation. Want to watch Netflix? Good thing Netflix is already paying for priority access and probably passing that cost on soon enough. Want to found an internet business and compete with the likes of Twitter? Ask your funding source to compete with Twitter's pocketbook just to get access.

The thing is, as consumers (which include those of us on our couches and those of us running a business) we cannot afford to stand by and hope this sorts itself out in favor of anyone but the telecommunications industry.

Why We Cannot Hope for the Best

I am loathe to dive directly into politics here. Few people want to hear me rant about my plan for outlawing Crocs and regulating the chocolate industry to require that white chocolate is made with real cocoa butter. However, this is important.

We can look to our president and hope that he is going to stand up for net neutrality. We can even feel good about a promise he made in 2007 when running for office (as reported by Cnet):

I am a strong supporter of Net neutrality. What you've been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you're getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites…so you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you'd be getting rotten service from the mom and pop sites. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.

He seemed to get it. He referenced Fox News, arguably his biggest mass media critic then and now, as someone who could pay for more access. I thought we could count on this guy.

Except President Obama has made other promises that haven't panned out (like every other modern president, of course), including ones that have led to the situation we're in now. Relevant here is his campaign promise to not put lobbyists in his administration, which Politifact rated as broken as early as 2009.

The FCC's current chairman, Tom Wheeler, is an example of that broken promise. Tom Wheeler's FCC bio lists his books and some of his jobs. It fails to note, however, his roles as President of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) (1992-2004), both lobbying organizations.

It's easy to make the case that his nomination to the FCC post is a function of his campaign donations. For Obama's first run at the presidency, Wheeler raised between $200,000 and $500,000 and personally gave $28,500 to the Obama Victory Fund. For Obama's re-election campaign he hosted a $5,000 to $20,000 per plate fundraising lunch.

To recap, the guy in charge of making the decision over net neutrality is a former lobbyist for the very industry that wants to prevent net neutrality. He likely got this job as a function of his financial support for getting his future boss elected. It seems unlikely net neutrality will find a friend in either Tom Wheeler or President Obama.

Realizing that this is the kind decision that the FCC and White House might be motivated to make quietly, someone took the time to start a petition on WhiteHouse.gov (the ideal armchair activist site). The idea here is that once (if) it hits 100,000 signatures, the White House (President Obama, but likely his proxy) will have to respond.

If the White House truly complied with its own rules about honoring 100,000 signatures with a response, then we might have gotten a non-answer (though I hoped for a deportation) on the Justin Bieber petition. Ok, that one is clearly a tongue-in-cheek (not really) petition, but others have been ignored altogether, resulting in a petition to get petitions answered (a similar one from 2011 didn't get a response even after it met the then-25,000 signature limit).

Sadly, the FCC is making its own decision on or shortly after May 15. The petition closes 9 days later, so there is no way the White House will be issuing a response before the FCC is already off to the races.

Maybe you can find help via Congress, although you'll probably not get it from the likes of people like Lamar Smith or others who demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the internet with regard to SOPA and PIPA (or demonstrated that they were easily bought by special interest).

What To Do?

Sign the petition. Ideally it will hit 100,000 signatures before its close date and before the FCC's May 15 date. Just maybe the FCC will listen before it goes and breaks the internet for Americans.

The FCC has set up an email address, openinternet@fcc.gov, to solicit comments from the general public. Use it.

Maybe write a blog post, or a news article, or something visible to the general public to help add to the public discontent.

Then express your displeasure, repeatedly, by tweeting, calling, emailing, and so on, the White House, the President, your representatives, the FCC, and for good measure perhaps the first lady, the press, and the (sadly, now deceased) emperor of San Francisco.

Here, I've started a couple tweets for you:

.@BarackObama Honor your campaign promise to maintain net neutrality. (Tweet it)

.@TomWheelerFCC @FCC Guarantee all Americans have access to the internet and our own government by maintaining and codifying net neutrality. (Tweet it)

Related

Update: May 2, 2014

Bill Stewart has written an excellent post that attempts to explain to those who are less technical than the average developer why net neutrality is important. Go read it and share it: Explaining Why Net Neutrality is Important

Update: May 13, 2014

If you're still a bit confused on net neutrality and have 11 minutes to spare for a primer, take this one for a spin:

Update: June 7, 2014

On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he takes just over 13 minutes to explain, justify, and then instruct how to defend net neutrality. I have embedded the video below, but for those who just want to act, he points out that the FCC has decided to take comments from the public, which you can do at: fcc.gov/comments, or specifically proceeding 14-28.

As of this writing, there are 49,206 comments, only the most recent 10,000 of which (for reasons unknown) can be viewed (oddly, with addresses) in PDF format (which I cannot explain) at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment_search/execute?proceeding=14-28

If you still aren't sure why you should take the time to do this, I present John Oliver's argument:

Update: August 30, 2014

I stumbled across this piece that, while a little late to the party, lists examples of where phone and cable companies have already been violating any prior agreements or statements to honor any kind of unofficial net neutrality: Net Blocking: A Problem in Need of a Solution

Update: November 10, 2014

President Obama appears to have finally remembered the promise he made while running in 2007. Having waited until the last minute, ignored petitions, ignored general calls from industry, he has finally outlined some high-level guidelines and asked the FCC to maybe consider them (I left the tt elements in place in the citation below, though I don't know they are there):

  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

Despite this positive statement, I think this quote is more telling (subject-verb agreement issues notwithstanding): The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone.

In short, he's doing nothing.

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