A disturbing trend with regard to the whole Net Neutrality issue is disinformation. Sites have sprung up around the Internet (many sponsored by phone and cable companies), acting as “astroturf” sites – coalitions that appear to be grass-roots in nature and composed of a “nationwide coalition of Internet users” (HandsOff.org). In reality, they are merely sites that rely on false definitions and don't answer the questions we have. As you may have seen in Gigi's post, there is confusion and disinformation revolving around the issue of Net Neutrality.
…the staffer asked whether, if we require broadband network providers not to discriminate in favor of content, applications and services in which they have a financial interest, should we not require the same from search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN? The reasoning goes like this – just like there are two dominant broadband network providers, there are two, maybe three dominant search engines, so shouldn't the latter be required to be neutral in their searches and sponsored links as well?
The issue isn't about search engines' preferential treatment of sponsors. It isn't about degrading customers' access speeds to the Internet. It's not about changing how the Internet gets to your door, and it is definitely not about making it impossible for EMTs to transmit patient information over the Internet. This debate is about whether the phone and cable companies can break the current fabric of the Internet – whether they can look at the packets going over their lines, and block or degrade access based on how much protection money their clients have paid them. It's as simple as that.
Yet many organizations persist on coloring and blurring the issue at hand. Their overarching claim? They need the extra money to “build the internet of the future”. That's a very nice phrase – but they've already been given $200 billion dollars in tax breaks, over the past 15 years, to build this “Internet of the future”.
Read on (click read more) for a Question-and-Answer session that one site posted – their answers divert your attention from the issues, and urge you to accept flawed definitions and disinformation.
“Doesn't the Internet already have tiers?” They answer Yes, saying that you're “able to choose from a variety of Internet access tiers” – such as dial-up, broadband, WiFi access, etc. They also cite peering agreements that are based on bandwidth.
This is a distraction from the actual issue – it's not that we'll wake up on Friday and find that we're back to the days of dial-up. Tiers do exist – as well they should. Someone who pays more for their Internet access should get a faster connection to the Internet. Google certainly pays a lot more than you or I do.
What should not happen is to charge companies like Google, Yahoo, etc. for their access, then charge them again, based on the fact that they deliver video content to users. Or music. Or news. They've already paid – why charge them again? This is what Net Neutrality fears the most.
“Are all bits treated equally on the Internet today?” They answer No, restating the above argument that everyone has a different access speed. They also digress into the various network prioritizations – like law enforcement and network security.
This is a false analogy. These are legitimate uses of packet discrimination which benefit society at large, that don't discriminate based on customers or payment. Representative Markey's amendment covered this – there is a section about making sure emergency communications are not affected by Neutrality. Unfortunately, it was voted down. Regardless, Net Neutrality isn't about prohibiting packet reprioritizations – only those that give unfair economic advantages to select corporations.
“Are all websites treated equally today?” They answer no, citing the fact that websites receive special treatment in search engines; by paying money to the search company, they receive premium placement when a user looks for specific terms.
This argument doesn't relate to Net Neutrality at all – another false analogy. Search engine placement is like having a billboard with your phone number on the highway – not everyone can buy one, but not having one means customers can still call you.
“Is there sufficient broadband competition?” The answer they give is “Yes. Competition is flourishing and increasing. In addition to cable modems, DSL, WiFi and satellite broadband, there are increasingly, 3-5 wireless broadband options and broadband over power lines.”
In many areas, there are only two broadband providers – cable internet, and DSL. Competition isn't really that present – sometimes there are incentives to change providers, but generally those come with heavy cancellation fees. Also, with more and more cable companies getting into the phone service arena, breaking neutrality opens the door for more incidents where Internet Service Providers block Voice-over-IP service. In addition, power-line broadband is available in very few areas.
“Is net neutrality — neutral?” The reply is “No. There's nothing neutral about the government: dictating one and only one way to design networks; creating an innovation double standard where innovation at the edge of the network is encouraged but discouraged inside the network; or rigging the game by picking winners before the game is played.”
“Would net neutrality discourage innovation?” They reply Yes, citing an Orwellian situation and noting that “net neutrality proposes that the only way to protect innovation is to restrict it,” and that “Net neutrality mandates sameness”.
These questions use a flawed definition of “neutral”. Packet reprioritizing, as mentioned above, is already in place – network security, law enforcement, and emergency medical services rely on it. Don't believe the shill – there isn't any threat to innovation. The only “innovation” that we might lose out on is an economic one – finding new ways to charge customers. As for picking winners? Changing packet order to benefit those that can pay extra, and hurting those who can't – now that's picking the winners beforehand.
“Would net neutrality reverse current Congressional policy toward the Internet?”
“Would net neutrality reverse the competition purpose of the 1996 Telecom Act?” Their reply is “Yes” to both.
Up until last year, DSL and cable providers were classified as “common carriers” – basically, they have to transmit the data they receive without discrimination. From doing so, they are immune from what actually passes over their wires. They were reclassified as “information services”, something they've fought to get for a long time. They are no longer subject to common carrier restrictions, though their services are used by the public. So no, Net Neutrality wouldn't reverse policy. It would keep policy consistent.
“Are there potential unintended consequences from net neutrality?” Of course, their answer is a resounding Yes:
Sweeping and rigid net neutrality legislation could: hinder public safety
and homeland security; complicate protecting Americans privacy; erode the
quality and responsiveness of the Internet; limit consumers' competitive
choices; and discourage investment in broadband deployment to all
Aside from the first two unsubstantiated claims, looks like a quality
argument. Let's turn that around for a second, using their answer as a rebuttal:
Are there potential unintended consequences from non-Net Neutrality?
Yes. Losing Network Neutrality could: “erode the quality and responsiveness on the Internet” (except when going to a select few sites that can pay extra); “limit consumers' competitive choices” (since you won't be able to get to the little guys' websites, because they can't pay the protection money); and “discourage investment in broadband deployment to all Americans” (there was an amendment that would force ISPs to build their services out to areas that have no broadband access. It was shot down). The incentive to build out their lines is gone. The incentive to do anything except make money is gone.
What's left? Charging racketeering fees to “guarantee higher service”.