After months of open comments on the FCC's proposal to change the rules on net neutrality, the last day to submit comments is September 15. At this point, most everyone has showed their hand in the argument, leaving us with the joy of finally measuring the arguments against each other, both in terms of volume and merit.
We will start with volume first, because it is laughably easy. Out of the record-breaking 1.5 million-plus comments that have been submitted to the FCC, only about one percent of entries are estimated to be in support of the proposed rules, which would allow for Internet service providers to charge digital companies for faster speeds.
Now comes the fun part. Out of all the individuals and corporations lending a voice for or against the proposed rules, we are looking at some of the highlights.
Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and basically every huge Internet corporation
Over 100 of the world's top tech companies issued a joint open letter to the FCC shortly after the commenting period was opened, and it decidedly set the tone for a whole campaign. Here's a snippet:
Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent. The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low.
Such rules are essential for the future of the Internet. This Commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets.
Minority Media and Telecommunications Council
This organization wrote a letter representing 42 civil rights organizations which kind-of-pretty-much sided with the FCC's proposal, and was decidedly against reclassifying the Internet as a public utility, as did an estimated 60 percent of commenters. The collective group caught a bunch of flack for it, especially once it came out that these civil rights groups had benefited from "more than $440,000 in luncheon sponsorships since 2010 from broadcast giants who favor the rule change." For their part, the MMTC—along with Jesse Jackson, whose organization Rainbow PUSH is represented by the MMTC— has responded to criticism by alluding to racism and a lack of general civility from the opposition.
Ouch. Here's a highlight from their letter:
Regulating broadband under Title II would also foster a climate of uncertainty, potentially choke innovation and diminish investment. Antiquated common carriage requirements, such as rate regulation and limits on content partnerships that do not offend antitrust law – all upon which the Commission would need to make individualized decisions on whether or not to forbear– would lead to years of regulatory ambiguity and litigation.
Senator Al Franken
Former Saturday Night Live writer and actor Al Franken don't play when it comes to talking about net neutrality. Through the whole open commenting process, Franken has been by far one of the most outspoken voices in Washington about the issue. In the above video, produced for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, he calls net neutrality the "free speech issue of our time."
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, and friends
As a general rule, federal government regulation of an industry is not looked upon too fondly by Republicans in the House of Representatives, even if that regulation is asking businesses not to make any changes to what has already proven to be a lucrative model. In a letter (excerpted below) to the FCC, speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and more basically told the FCC that internet service providers should be able to do whatever they want. It's called a "free market," stupid.
The Internet was born, grew up, and became the engine of social, economic and political change that we know today without net neutrality rules. And, despite the distinctly international flavor of today's Internet, let us not forget that it is an American invention. We asked the world to take a leap of faith with us— to reject the idea that communications was inherently a state-owned enterprise or government-granted monopoly. Today, thousands of companies serve billions of people around the world and enable trillions of dollars of economic activity worldwide. As we continue to ask the world to keep their hands off the Internet and to allow people to freely engage with each other, we should lead by example and reject calls to return to a bygone model of network regulation.
Netflix, which has already been affected
Poor Netflix. Their very business model has been barking up the tree of Internet service providers and cable providers (hold up… that's the same tree!) for years now, all the while providing consumers with bad ass programming, and increasingly awesome original content.
On any given night, Netflix watchers might take up about 30 percent of the internet bandwidth, and for that reason, Internet service providers have basically strong-armed them into paying up, lest the connection get slowed down. Obviously, the company supports strong net neutrality rules (because this threatens their business model and bottom-line), but they are being forced to pay up. Netflix' Reed Hastings touched on the predicament in a blog post, excerpted below:
Netflix believes strong net neutrality is critical, but in the near term we will in cases pay the toll to the powerful ISPs to protect our consumer experience. When we do so, we don’t pay for priority access against competitors, just for interconnection. A few weeks ago, we agreed to pay Comcast and our members are now getting a good experience again. Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality, and we hope they’ll support strong net neutrality as well.
ISPs sometimes point to data showing that Netflix members account for about 30% of peak residential Internet traffic, so the ISPs want us to share in their costs. But they don't also offer for Netflix or similar services to share in the ISPs revenue, so cost-sharing makes no sense. When an ISP sells a consumer a 10 or 50 megabits-per-second Internet package, the consumer should get that rate, no matter where the data is coming from.
Some ISPs say that Netflix is unilaterally "dumping as much volume" (Verizon CFO) as it wants onto their networks. Netflix isn't "dumping" data; it's satisfying requests made by ISP customers who pay a lot of money for high speed Internet. Netflix doesn't send data unless members request a movie or TV show.
The Internet Service Providers themselves
Finally, we have arrived to the demonized massive corporations (which everyone already hates) that (in the eyes of many) are trying to fundamentally end the Internet as we know it, and made mad money stacks while they are at it.
For the most part, their collective argument can boil down to the following: "providing Internet is damn expensive. If you want Netflix, you are going to have to allow us to charge Netflix, so that we can keep all the services and infrastructure up to date."
A lot of people see this as pure bullshit, but it has probably never been put as eloquently as when AT&T's Jim Cicconi responded to the Netflix blog post we mentioned above. Check it:
When Netflix delivered its movies by mail, the cost of delivery was included in the price their customer paid. It would’ve been neither right nor legal for Netflix to demand a customer’s neighbors pay the cost of delivering his movie. Yet that’s effectively what Mr. Hastings is demanding here, and in rather self-righteous fashion. Netflix may now be using an Internet connection instead of the Postal Service, but the same principle applies. If there’s a cost of delivering Mr. Hastings’s movies at the quality level he desires – and there is – then it should be borne by Netflix and recovered in the price of its service. That’s how every other form of commerce works in our country. It’s simply not fair for Mr. Hastings to demand that ISPs provide him with zero delivery costs – at the high quality he demands – for free. Nor is it fair that other Internet users, who couldn’t care less about Netflix, be forced to subsidize the high costs and stresses its service places on all broadband networks.
As we all know, there is no free lunch, and there’s also no cost-free delivery of streaming movies. Someone has to pay that cost. Mr. Hastings’ arrogant proposition is that everyone else should pay but Netflix. That may be a nice deal if he can get it. But it’s not how the Internet, or telecommunication for that matter, has ever worked.
The middle fingers
People are passionate about net neutrality. From a quick look at the comments that the FCC has gotten, there's a handful of this being lobbed at the FCC and Internet service providers. Wouldn't be accurate if we didn't report it.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.