[A2k] Not So Neutral

Claire Cassedy claire.cassedy at keionline.org
Thu Jan 30 08:45:24 PST 2014


Recipient, 2013 Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation

A Washington, D.C. court ruled this month that Internet service providers
in the United States will be allowed to deny or degrade the Internet
connection to any website as they see fit. Analyst James Love argues that
this violation of "net neutrality" stems from corruption in American

The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) "net neutrality" rules were
established to ensure that leading Internet service providers do not block,
or degrade the quality of the Internet connection to certain websites at
the expense of others. On January 14, 2014, the United States Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit published an 81-page document
that struck down these rules.

The court described the Internet as having four major participants:
backbone networks that allows electronic information to flow from one place
to another, broadband providers like Verizon or Comcast, edge providers
(any website maker on the planet) , and end-users (people who use the
Internet). According to the court ruling:

"Proponents of net neutrality--or, to use the Commission's preferred term,
"Internet openness"--worry about the relationship between broadband
providers and edge providers. They fear that broadband providers might
prevent their end-user subscribers from accessing certain edge providers
altogether, or might degrade the quality of their end-user subscribers'
access to certain edge providers, either as a means of favoring their own
competing content or services or to enable them to collect fees from
certain edge providers. Thus, for example, a broadband provider like
Comcast might limit its end-user subscribers' ability to access the New
York Times website if it wanted to spike traffic to its own news website,
or it might degrade the quality of the connection to a search website like
Bing if a competitor like Google paid for prioritized access." (Page 6)

If Internet service providers are given the freedom to discriminate in this
way, they will be able to effectively control which services provided over
the Internet work best, or work at all. The handful of giant corporations
that control connections to homes and mobile computing devices will
consequently gain even more power. If unchecked, this could result in
higher prices for services, barriers to innovation, and de facto censorship
of information services.

While the court's decision - which the U.S. Supreme Court may yet review -
strikes down a particular FCC rule, many legal experts are of the opinion
that it expands the FCC's authority to act in other areas. The legal issues
are technical and complex, but the challenges for the FCC in restoring a
regulatory framework are largely political: in Washington, D.C., it is far
easier to block new policy rules than to enact new ones.

Washington has become a cesspool of corruption because of a series of court
decisions that have eliminated the limits on corporate contributions to
candidates for electoral offices.

No one knows for sure how much money the large telephone and cable
television companies that control the broadband services spend on political
campaigns, because there are countless ways to use third parties, such as
law firms, consultants, and related businesses, to make contributions or to
influence elections.

Verizon, the company that sued the FCC to overturn the net neutrality
rules, can donate directly to candidates, political action committees
(PACs), Super PACs, and outside groups, and can donate both "hard money"
and "soft money" to political parties. It can also hire an army of former
Congressional, White House, and FCC staffers, and donate millions of
dollars to hundreds of non-profit organizations.

Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig rightly says that corruption is the root
problem in politics right now, and it is front and center in the net
neutrality debate. But with the stakes so high, and so many people and
businesses impacted by the decision, it may be possible to enact new
protections that ensure that broadband Internet service providers do not
have the last word on what services work best, or work at all. The Internet
is now the center of our economic, social, and cultural lives, and it
should not be controlled by telephone and cable companies.

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