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Now is the time to stand up and defend net neutrality

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We don’t usually venture into politics here at Gigaom. We have a staff of very smart writers who aren’t afraid to state their opinions, but we generally don’t ask our readers to rally for a cause. Today, we are making an exception to that rule because of a grave threat to the very foundation of technology-driven innovation.

The founding principle of Gigaom has always been that broadband is a transformative factor that enables innovation and brings about positive change for industries and societies alike. And while we have expanded our focus over the years to cover emerging technologies in fields like mobile, cloud computing, media, data and science, broadband has always been a key enabler of those technologies.

Without the transformative power of broadband, there would be no Amazon(s amzn) Web Services, no Netflix(s nflx), no iOS(s aapl) and no Android(s goog), no Facebook(s fb), no Bitcoin and no Internet of Things. There would be no Teslas(s tsla) as we know them today, Pandora(s p) would stream no music and we wouldn’t be able to share our photos and videos over Instagram and Vine.

But broadband isn’t just about speed. It’s also about providing equal access, about enabling small startups to compete with the big guys and in turn become the next YouTube, Instagram or Twitter(s twtr). It’s about a diversity of voices and opinions that can be found via search engines or social networks. That’s why it is so important to have strong net neutrality protections that prevent access providers, many of which have their own competing business offerings and a monopoly over the eyeballs of end users, from discriminating against network traffic.

It’s all well and good to argue that the FCC would prevent an ISP from blocking the next Google or Amazon, but it’s impossible to tell what business might grow to become the next technology giant in time to protect it. The very act of trying to call on the agency to intervene wastes time that a startup or new service doesn’t have. And such influence from ISPs doesn’t always come from blocking or bad behavior — if given the opportunity to set prices for access to the end user, they can charge rates that will stifle innovation merely by adding friction to the process of reaching you and me in our homes or on our phones.

At Gigaom, we are very concerned about the FCC’s reported proposals to allow ISPs to charge internet companies for so-called fast lanes, because they will inevitably lead to an internet that favors big pockets over small, inventive startups. We appeal to the FCC to enact strong net neutrality regulations that protect equal access and prevent this kind discrimination. To achieve this goal, we encourage the FCC to proactively reclassify broadband under Title II instead of waiting for violations to occur.

We’d also like to ask our community of readers to weigh in on this issue and make their voices heard. You can use the following resources to directly contact the FCC:

For links to an array of options from signing petitions to calling (or writing) your congressman click here.

To raise money to put up a billboard in D.C., click here.

If you want to visit D.C. on Thursday, May 15, here’s information on a planned protest at the FCC.

And finally, to see a vision of what the world would look like without net neutrality, go visit Brad Feld’s slow-loading web site to experience an interpretation of an internet slow lane.

23 Responses to “Now is the time to stand up and defend net neutrality”

  1. Isaac

    When does the investigation into the possible bribery that brought this about begin? Which vested interests are involved? The whole concept of Net Neutrality was created to prevent this sort of preferred traffic model from ever being implemented. First Class, Business Class, Coach, Economy or will there be a “steerage” lane on the sinking internet ship?

  2. I would like to know why GigaOM is against OTT competition. Wheeler’s proposed rules will allow the OTT providers to compete effectively against the incumbents. Yes it will add a small incremental cost to their costs, but it will not come for free. Content providers cannot expect the ISP to add the tremendous capacity required for video without some increase in costs. Video is killing the all Internet traffic and we must manage it better. Bandwidth alone will not solve the problem. We need to start managing latency, jitter, and packet loss along with bandwidth. Voice requires little bandwidth but frequently suffers due to congestion in the network. By prioritizing it over other services, we can deterministically deliver the packets for a good toll quality voice experience.

    This net neutrality argument is totally devoid of any technical discussions. It is purely emotional like most political discourse. Would someone please define “fast lane?” Why should all packets be treated equal? Is it still “peering” if the traffic is highly asymmetrical? These are the discussions that should be front and center instead of an emotional campaign. I applaud Chairman Wheeler’s latest moves on this rule and municipal broadband. I truly believe that he is trying to encourage competition. I am not so sure about the “net neutrality” crowd’s motivations since several Soros funded organizations involved in the campaign. Be careful for what you wish for, you just may get it; a lower quality Internet experience for everyone.

  3. Can always use a service like to send a letter to your congressperson. Physical letters have more weight behind them (literally and figuratively) in this context… I used stampr to send a free letter to my local representative regarding my feelings on net neutrality and the Verizon v. FCC decision a while back.

  4. Kevin Bae

    Someone with knowledge needs to do a write up on the downside of declaring ISPs common carriers. I haven’t seen anything discussing this and I’m concerned about the potential unintended consequences.

    We need a light touch from the government to protect the flow of bits on the Internet either more or fewer regulations that will increase competition in the Internet access space. The reason we’re in this mess is because of ISP monopoly/duopoly status in most of the country.

    • Kevin agreed on the light touch. I cannot find one example where more government regulation has improved anything, and the Internet has done fine without it. I have been considering writing an article on the dangers to innovation, price, and service for the return of rate-of-return regulation. Divestiture ushered in competition and innovation as witnessed by the fact that we have a commercial Internet service. I worked in the Bell System and even though innovation was abound, it took forever to bring it to market if at all.

  5. Henry 3 Dogg

    “…, because they will inevitably lead to an internet that favors big pockets over small…”

    Hm. Size isn’t the issue. It’s high data volume to data value services that will suffer.

    Google’s YouTube, advertising funded video, could easily be a victim. Netflix may struggle.

    But the alternative is a return to the user paying metered data. And that’s likely to cost far more and strangle the use of the same products.

    What I wouldn’t want to see is the big cable companies leveraging network ownership to restrict the users access to competing content providers. That is the net neutrality that I care about.

  6. I’m curious to hear what GigaOM team thinks of impact that net neutrality rules could have on virtual MVPDs. Any concern that prohibiting a fast lane could thwart an Internet-based pay TV service from delivering quality video streams, or that rules could discourage major broadband providers from upgrading infrastructure to support multiple over-the-top pay TV services?

    • Steve, I actually think virtual MVPDs could benefit from strong net neutrality. The challenge any over-the-top TV provider will face is primarily economical – how can you compete with existing offerings on price if you have to pay the same, or possibly more, to carry key networks? Any additional costs, like the ones they’d have to pay for fast lane access, would make this model prohibitively expensive.

      Of course, this assumes that a virtual MVPD offers the same programming as traditional operators, including the bog broadcasters and key cable channels, and we have yet to see any of those offerings actually launch. But there is also another way to look at this: What if virtual MVPDs are already here today, only they’re not serving you and me, but niche audiences like expats and others not as interested in mainstream programming? DishWorld is obviously one example, but there is also a growing number of other niche offerings that stream on-demand and live TV from other countries to U.S. audiences. Some of these are smaller startups, and forcing them to pay extra for fast lane access would severely stifle innovation for these kind of long tail offerings.

      • Jeremy

        “Some of these are smaller startups, and forcing them to pay extra for fast lane access would severely stifle innovation for these kind of long tail offerings.”

        Um, “innovation” isn’t intended to be a catch-all replacement for the word “success.” That’s the trouble with Gigaom getting into politics – we’re going to see these talking points and loaded words inserted into what were previously straight-ahead news stories. It’s unfortunate.

  7. I agree with your principles, but don’t find your reasoning coherent. Watching TV consumes 1000’s of time more bandwidth than the interactive applications that have made the Internet truly innovative. A recent report by Sandvine indicates that “cord cutters” are consuming 53% of bandwidth in the US. Does anyone believe that a relatively small population of cord cutters is paying more than half the cost of operating the Internet? Or, that their experience constitutes half the aggregate value of the Internet to society?

    In fact, the “slow loading” www site scenario is exactly what we can expect if ISP’s traffic management hands are too tightly tied. An entire city can probably browse GigaOm for the cost of one person watching NetFlix. What is an ISP’s motive to destroy that experience? In fact, that is the experience that will get buried in a “best effort” free for all. That is where the biggest, best funded content providers will prevail, which explains why it is all the biggest content providers leading the charge for Net Neutrality. To protect all the little guys who are trying to unseat them.

    • Not every content provider will need prioritized service only the one that are interested in maintaining the quality of their voice and video services. I don’t even think that Google will need it for YouTube unless it will be for paid content. By applying proper traffic management techniques, the QoS will improve for all services including best-effort. Bandwidth is not the only parameter controlling the quality of Internet service. People need to understand that latency, jitter, and packet loss rates are also important parameters that are not managed with best-effort.

      • You are right about bandwidth not being the only parameter, but it is also true that a lightly loaded network will deliver low latency and low loss without any differential treatment of packets. I still think it is an open question whether differential queuing wins out over simple capacity. However, for sure you can never have enough capacity unless there is effective gating at the network ingress.

        Maybe that is where all the queuing should happen. Then the data originator can do their own queue management according to the needs of their application. If I want low latency, I just over-size my access speed so I never have a queue. If I am serving delay tolerant downloads, I undersize and let it dribble out around the clock.

        There is already a well established business model for this: you pay by the size of your access pipe. But, this can only work if access pipes come with SLA’s that guarantee you can reach the destinations you care about. ISP’s need a free hand to enter into these agreements both with content providers and with 3rd party aggregators who can then offer similar SLA’s to their customers.

        Maybe you are right that we also need more differentiated services in the network. But, as network speeds increase, the amount of time packets can sit in a queue goes down. If queuing delay is a problem, you probably need a capacity upgrade anyway.

        • Tim:

          I agree with your statements, but I don’t think we’ll see companies building a tremendous amount of over-capacity to accommodate a lightly filled pipe for other’s video traffic. It is more economical to do some traffic engineering.

          Businesses have the option of just purchasing bandwidth or bandwidth an SLA. I think we need this same option on the Internet too. Video is flooding all of the pipes and we need a better, economical way to manage it.

  8. You guys have it mostly wrong on this topic. Not all products/service require the same level of Internet performance to be useful to end users. Some products require superior network performance to be useful – Netflix for example. If ways in which companies can pay extra for the performance they need is not allowed, then innovation will be stifled. The ability to purchase what is necessary to provide the user experience affects both start-ups and large established companies. So, I suggest that you quit asking for equal access (guaranteeing mediocre), and instead start promoting “ethical” access.

    • Agreed. Internet applications are becoming too diverse for a one size fits all best effort service. The main question is whether we have more fined grained billing at the consumer end or at the content provider end. Putting it at the consumer end makes sense theoretically, but probably doesn’t work in practice. The consumer doesn’t have enough visibility into or control over what is coming down their pipe. E.g., it is easy for Netflix to offer multiple video resolutions, and manage/bill for that however they think best. It is not reasonable for customers to make this kind of micro-payment decision for every site they visit. What, are we going to have a meter running in the corner of our screen, and remember not to visit the sites that run up our bills with high bit rate advertising?

  9. Gary Doan

    Net neutrality is anti-consumer, pro content provider legislation. This is nothing more than passing content providers and business costs to the consumer. A better idea would be to open up competition between carriers and remove all franchise monopolies. That way everyone could get lower cost service and it would force the competitors to release new features and improve service to compete.

    • Turning these providers into equal opportunity dumb pipes would do that Gary. If they HAVE to deliver to the consumer whatever it is they seek it leaves a highly adaptable ecosystem alive to handle circumstances as they arrive.

      Look at the recent Netflix back plane scenario with Comcast. It was arranged so that the ISP COULD afford to deliver the experience Netflix and its customers wanted. Dumb pipes also negate the monopolistic desires of proposed monopolies such as the Comcast/Time Warner disaster!

      • Morgan Warstler

        You are wrong.

        Google, Apple, MSFT are siting on massive cash piles, that if TWC / Comcast get greedy, they can spend on providing wireline alternative.

        Right now Google holds all the cars with Google Fiber – they aren’t DESPERATE to lay down pipe.

        We’ve ben thru this before when netscape went crying to govt. about IE browser. All it did was get govt. nose in our tent.

        • These companies do not want to build their own networks. It would cost billions and their ROI would be negative for over a decade or more. Besides they would only build it out in the most densely populated areas where it is more profitable. You don’t think that Apple would push its content over other content? Think again, but then many people seem to be just fine with Apple deciding on their content.

    • You have it backwards, @Gary. Net Neutrality is pro-consumer and not “anti” ISP or anti anything else.

      Have you looked at the trends in backbone investment in this country for the past 5+ years? It has been DROPPING, because “you can’t make me.” And that’s with no strong NN legislation in place! The malignant weasels at Verizon had the gall to start an astro-turfing campaign to try to reverse a prior NJ bill stipulation that was a key to their getting the right to deploy FIOS en masse in the first place (expanding into less served/less densely populated parts of the state)! Weasels one and all.

      Time to call their bluff and start playing hardball. The signals that are distributed to our houses, via telephone poles, underground conduit, satellite transmissions or whatever are all PUBLIC EASEMENTS. We own them, not the telcos or the ISPs. They want us to forget that little fact. They NEED us to forget that little fact.

      I say it’s high time we treat them like the dumb pipes they are and MANDATE regular upgrades/expansion into rural areas if they want to keep their PRIVILEGE of gaining free and unfettered access into American homes.

      Oh and Verizon? Might be nice if you started paying corporate income taxes for a change, seeing as you still manage to hand out billions in shareholder dividends every damn quarter! Nothing like using corp income tax refunds to make their top shareholders even more insanely rich, eh? Like I said, Weasels one and all….

    • Gary opening up access competition would be ideal but the economics are not in favor of multiple last-mile broadband networks. A last-mile network needs to have a fill of over 50% before it can return a decent ROI. That is why I have advocated open access municipal infrastructure where local gov’t entities install the fiber infrastructure and sell capacity at non-discriminatory prices to any carrier that wants to enter a market.

      Wheeler’s proposal is the next best way to preserve real competition for OTT service providers, but 99.99% of the people don’t understand it including GigaOM.