The Net Neutrality Debate Is About Companies & Politicians Own Posturing

This net neutrality debate is getting ugly, political and only going to get worse. Cutting through all the garbage arguments and posturing by companies and politicians makes it clear that they want what’s best for their bottom line and politicians just want to stay popular. The President says, “the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality” but then says “the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act“. You can’t have both. If new rules are made, then you don’t need to reclassify anything under Title II. The President also says that, “no paid prioritization” should take place, but Title II does not cover interconnect deals.

Not to mention, the deals between Netflix and the ISPs don’t involve prioritization of Netflix’s traffic, at any level. Netflix pays to get a direct connection to Comcast’s network, but both companies have publicly said the data itself is not being prioritized. So how does Title II solve the Netflix/ISP issues? It doesn’t. Also, do we know of a single instance where an ISP is actually doing paid prioritization? I have yet to see a single example. So while it’s ok to say it should not happen, people talk about it like it’s something that keeps occurring. [Cogent was just caught doing it. See: “Cogent Now Admits They Slowed Down Netflix’s Traffic, Creating A Fast Lane & Slow Lane” and “Cogent’s Favoring Of Packets Disregards FCC Rules“]

The FCC was created to be an independent regulatory agency with no involvement from politics, yet the White House now throws their hat into the ring, which is pointless since they have no authority. Politicians and policy lawyers want to use net neutrality for their own agenda, without any transparency. Content owners like Netflix and the ISPs are also guilty as they have released very limited data to the public, that can’t really be reviewed without a lot of supporting documentation, which we don’t have, and is needed so we can see the bigger picture. Any company can slice off a portion of their overall data and make it look positive for their agenda, which is what’s been done.

I also find it funny that the President said that net neutrality has “been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation“, except that we didn’t even have that term until around seven years ago. The Internet is older than seven years. The President goes on to say he is asking the FCC “to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” Except about 1 million of those comments were against Title II regulations, but as politicians like to do, they use the numbers as they see fit to their advantage. Yes, 75% of the comments were for it, but then use the real numbers, don’t inflate them. This is the problem in having a conversation on the topic of net neutrality because so often, very little in the way of real facts and numbers are used, not taken out of context.

There has never been any rule or understanding that certain networks must carry traffic for free. A lot of networks engage in settlement free peering, but that is purely at their option, as a business decision. If some want to argue that needs to change and be regulated, then lets review their proposals. Problem is, the companies arguing for change haven’t put forth any proposals on how they want to see it work in today’s economy. Where are their proposals? So far, I haven’t seen a single one, other than to say they want Title II reclassification, or free access to the ISP networks. That’s not a “proposal”, it’s an idea, with no details included to allow anyone to determine what the impact to content owners, ISPs and consumers would be. It’s easy for some to throw around terms like Title II and create wish lists of how regulation should happen without scratching the surface of what it really means to broadband companies and the entire Internet ecosystem. What’s the impact, both positive and negative, for everyone involved?

If ISPs got reclassified under Title II, no one is asking what that would mean for quality of video content being delivered to consumers. People assume that means the quality would improve, which is a big assumption. When Netflix did their paid interconnection deal with Comcast, they got three SLAs from Comcast. An install SLA, packet loss SLA and latency SLA. If ISPs get reclassified and have to provide access to their networks for free, where is there any language under Title II that says what the quality of that access has to be? Free access to their networks would be done on a “best effort” approach. If you look at the SLAs at some of the ISPs, it has language like “service is provided on a best efforts basis and cannot be guaranteed.” So while the topic of access and interconnects keeps coming up, no one is discussing or suggesting what QoS metrics need to be tied to that. Quantity means nothing without quality!

Without re-writing Title II language, classifying ISPs under Title II won’t fix anything. We need new language or better yet, a new law, not reclassification of an old law, applied to today’s economy. Title II allows for discrimination according to source of content and other factors. That’s what people don’t want, yet they are still calling for Title II classification to be enacted. That shows just how illogical this whole debate has become. Net neutrality is a an incredibly complex set of problems that people keep trying to simplify and politicians try to turn into sound bytes. As long as it continues like this, the net neutrality debate is not going to be solved anytime soon and we should expect more delays, unclear language, lawsuits, non-transparent data and politics instead of common sense. Be careful what you wish for.