Dear Aunt Sadie, please step back from the so-called ‘net neutrality’ ledge

“In the 25 years I’ve been toiling in the mines of tech policy, I’ve developed what I call the Aunt Sadie test. Most of the issues I research and write about are woefully technical, legal, economic and boring; of interest to more and more people here in Silicon Valley as the information economy increasingly becomes the economy, but, still, relatively obscure,” Larry Downes writes for Forbes. “But every now and then, I’ll get a call from a friend I’ll refer to as ‘Aunt Sadie,’ someone who avidly uses technology but is not involved in its creation, marketing, or regulation.”

“Aunt Sadie is politically tuned in, a long-time California progressive who reads plenty of Internet news sites and gets lots of solicitations from various public interest groups who want her to help fund their campaigns to overturn this or support that,” Downes writes. “So when I hear from Aunt Sadie on an issue of tech policy… It means she’s been blasted with overheated and oversimplified media accounts of what is inevitably a complicated question of technology and policy, followed up by feverish pitches from advocacy groups hoping to capitalize on the chaos, shoehorning the issue into often unrelated agenda.”

“It was last week when the FCC announced, to no one’s surprise, that it would be voting in mid-December to undo much if not all of the Commission’s 2015 Open Internet order, a four-hundred page monster that, almost as an afterthought, attempted to codify rules limiting the network management practices of ISPs — the third such effort to do so after courts twice told the agency it had no legal authority to do so,” Downes writes. “The FCC has always referred to these efforts as ‘Open Internet rules.’ But everyone else, for better and for much worse, knows them as ‘net neutrality.'”

“Originally a term of art coined by a law professor to popularize Internet design principles including peered connections and packet-switching algorithms, ‘net neutrality’ has come to stand for, well, pretty much anything, gathering political debris like a snowball rolling down a mountain, until the term has become weirdly partisan and utterly meaningless,” Downes writes. “It’s now ‘about’ everything from free speech to democracy to ‘fairness on the Internet.”

MacDailyNews Take: Hence our consistent use of “so-called” as a prefix for “net neutrality,” especially in regard to the current FCC rules.

“As regular readers of this column know, my technology policy lodestone is simple if not simplistic: the accelerating speed of technological change invariably outweighs the ability of regulators to keep up. The law of unintended consequences takes over quickly and dangerously, often undoing any benefits from interventions entered into with the best of intentions,” Downes writes. “Instead, new technologies and the engineers, entrepreneurs and investors who develop it do a much more effective job of regulating than traditional governments.”

“It should be clear to everyone by now that leaving the specifics of that remedy to the discretion of successive chairmen of the FCC is an untenable solution,” Downes writes. “That’s why I continue to urge Aunt Sadie and everyone else who will listen to bring an end to this wasteful debate by demanding that Congress decide once and for all how broadband Internet should be regulated, and by whom. Congress can — and I believe should — pass specific net neutrality rules, and should settle the question of how enforcement should be split (or not) between the FCC and the FTC.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote over a decade ago, back in August 2006:

We don’t presume to know the best way to get there, but we support the concept of “Net Neutrality” especially as it pertains to preventing the idea of ISP’s blocking or otherwise impeding sites that don’t pay the ISP to ensure equal access. That said, we usually prefer the government to be hands-off wherever possible, Laissez-faire, except in cases where the free market obviously cannot adequately self-regulate (antitrust, for example). Regulations are static and the marketplace is fluid, so such regulation can often have unintended, unforeseen results down the road. We sincerely hope that there are enough forces in place and/or that the balances adjust in such a manner as to keep the ‘Net as neutral as it is today.

And as we followed up in September 2009:

That we have the same Take over three years later should be telling. Government regulations are not a panacea, neither are the lack thereof. It’s all about striking a proper balance where innovation can thrive while abuses are prevented.

Make that “the same Take over a decade later.”

SEE ALSO:
U.S. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: Killing Obama-era rules for so-called ‘net neutrality’ will set the internet free – November 22, 2017
U.S. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: How the FCC can save the open internet – November 21, 2017
U.S. FCC plans total repeal of Obama-era rules for so-called ‘net neutrality’ – November 21, 2017
U.S. FCC plans December vote to kill so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules – November 16, 2017
Apple’s call for ‘strong’ net neutrality rules is a hint about the future of its business – September 1, 2017
Apple breaks their silence on ‘net neutrality,’ remains open to alternative sources of legal authority – August 31, 2017
Trump administration gives thumbs up to overturning FCC’s rules for so-called ‘net neutrality’ – July 19, 2017
]Apple’s deafening silence on so-called ‘net neutrality’ – July 14, 2017
FCC kicks off effort to roll back so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules – May 18, 2017
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explains why he wants to scrap so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules – April 28, 2017
FCC Chief Ajit Pai develops plans to roll back so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules – April 7, 2017
U.S. FCC chairman wields weed whacker, takes first steps against so-called ‘net neutrality’ – February 3, 2017
How so-called ‘net neutrality’ will fare under President Trump – January 26, 2017
New FCC chairman Ajit Pai vows to take a ‘weed whacker’ to so-called ‘net neutrality’ – January 24, 2017
President Trump elevates Ajit Pai to FCC Chairman – January 23, 2017
Outgoing FCC chief Tom Wheeler offers final defense of so-called ‘net neutrality’ – January 13, 2017
Under President Trump, Obama ally Google may face policy setbacks, including roll back of so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules – November 18, 2016
Jeb Bush on FCC and so-called ‘net neutrality’ regulation: ‘One of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard’ – March 8, 2015
Who loves the FCC’s overreach on so-called ‘net neutrality?’ Telecom lawyers – March 5, 2015

44 Comments

  1. As I just said last week:

    This is one step on the path towards getting what we all want: Real competition that drives down prices.

    Republican leaders of the Senate Commerce and House Energy & Commerce committees called again Wednesday for Democrats to come to the negotiating table.

    “It’s now time for Republicans and Democrats, internet service providers, edge providers, and the internet community as a whole to come together and work toward a legislative solution that benefits consumers and the future of the internet,” Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

    The FCC overstepped and is the wrong policeman for the job. As usual, the Obama administration made the wrong choice: heavy-handed forced regulation that stifles innovation and retards the system from achieving the necessary balance.

    As usual, the knee-jerkers (see many of the idiotic commenters here) can’t see past the tip of their noses and can’t see even one move ahead, much less the multiple moves this is going to take to get to where it needs to be.

    The Internet is relatively new, especially to the glacially slow pace of government. Pai is trying to set up a situation where legislative solutions can be crafted, i.e. LAW, not a president’s whim that can be overturned with the next president’s stroke of a pen.

    Getting the policing of “net neutrality” out of the FCC is merely the first step.

    1. I have a difficult time following your reasoning, that Pai needs to change these rules “to set up a situation where legslative solutions can be crafted.” I wasn’t aware that the current rules somehow prevented congressional action.

      1. The current rules do NOT impede Congress from enacting laws with regard to Net Neutrality or any other aspect of what it regulated by the FCC or FTC. Those who say — or even imply — otherwise are outright lying to you. It does not matter who says (or implies) that: FCC chairman, U.S. President, U.S. Senator or Representative, or F14T16.

      2. The Obama rules are one big humongous pile of ancient garbage about as applicable to the Internet as rubber erasers are to computer screens. It had to go. If congress wishes, it can attempt to enact network neutrality as defined originally by Tim Wu, or better yet stay out of it.

        We will hit a time (we already have actually) where some traffic will have to be prioritized. Medical traffic where remote surgery is being performed is a favorite example. It really should be more important than porn traffic.

    2. The statement, “The FCC overstepped and is the wrong policeman for the job. As usual, the Obama administration made the wrong choice: heavy-handed forced regulation that stifles innovation and retards the system from achieving the necessary balance.”, is almost invariably based upon the idea that many ISPs are content creators as well as transmitters of information created by others and thus because they are partly content creators should be regulated by the FTC.

      This is blatantly false thinking.

      Simple case in point… Radio stations and TV stations have, for several decades, been both content creators (the local news is just one example) and transmitters of content created by others (both syndicated shows and public service announcements count here). Yet no one is saying that the FCC has no right to regulate those radio and TV stations. No one is saying that radio and TV stations need to be solely regulated under the FTC.

      Suggesting that the FTC take over the regulation of ISPs and the internet in general is just a way to delay the inevitable. As soon as the switch to the FTC is done (by regulatory fiat or by law) you can guaranteed that these will be lawsuits that will fight that switch — lawsuits that might easily keep any switch to the FTC from happening.

    1. I don’t think you can blame these “monopolies” on city governments. The telecoms wanted to be sole providers and have obstructed efforts to increase competition. That’s one reason why I have a hard time seeing these proposed changes, which are so favored by Comcast and others, as likely to be beneficial to customers.

        1. If this is true then why are cities that want to set up there own municipal broad band being stopped buy State governments (under the direction of there corporate masters).

          These regulations were brought in because of abuse by the monopolies so why would we think that they have changed, especially because they are pushing really hard to have the regulation removed.

    2. In many cases, cities that have tried to encourage competition and lower-cost alternatives have been blocked by state legislation bought and paid for by the incumbent carriers.

      1. So, the flawed “net neutrality” appears to have been the only thing that prevented Comcast from doing “bad things”.
        “With Ajit Pai now in charge at the Federal Communications Commission, Comcast’s stance has changed. While the company still says it won’t block or throttle Internet content, it has dropped its promise about not instituting paid prioritization.”

        I would imagine that sites including this one are going to be hit up to subscribe to Comcast’s “ComcRAPID – high speed delivery directly to our millions of customers!” service. Again, if “net neutrality” with quotes is the ONLY thing preventing Comcast from doing this, then I’d be in favor of keeping the crap we have now because we know congress, in the shackles of the Freedom Caucus will NOT be able to do any better than the crap we have now.

    1. MDN quotes corporatocracy propaganda and “They seem to really know what they’re taking about”?! Laughter ensues.

      Pai, the LIAR, blatantly ignores the proven will of We The People. But Pai, the shill for those who hate REAL Net Neutrality is NOT the last word. We The People are the last word. Here’s how to speak out. Call your elected officials. Here’s some assistance from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

      Congress, Don’t Sell the Internet Out
      Net neutrality is under serious threat. Right now, the FCC is considering a proposal to roll back the critical net neutrality protections in the Open Internet Order. We can’t let that happen. It’s time to tell your lawmakers: Don’t let the FCC sell the Internet out.

      The FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order was a huge victory for Internet users. Thanks to the millions of us who spoke up for a free and open Internet, we won essential net neutrality protections.

      Now those protections could disappear, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is considering reversing the Open Internet Order and giving major telecommunications companies an unprecedented level of control over how we use the Internet.

      Under Pai’s plan, the FCC would relinquish its authority to enforce its common-sense, light-touch net neutrality rules, thus giving ISPs free rein to engage in unfair practices like site blocking and throttling.

      Please tell your members of Congress to oppose efforts to roll back net neutrality protections.

  2. “That’s why I continue to urge Aunt Sadie and everyone else who will listen to bring an end to this wasteful debate by demanding that Congress decide once and for all how broadband Internet should be regulated, and by whom. Congress can — and I believe should — pass specific net neutrality rules, and should settle the question of how enforcement should be split (or not) between the FCC and the FTC.”

    Expecting Congress to pass useful net neutrality rules is wishful thinking at this point. And why would anyone expect those rules to be somehow more prescient and superior to well-reasoned regulation? Congress’ rules would lock things up, but regulations can be more quickly and easily adapted as technology changes.

    If Congress wants to pass legislation to specific which agency has jurisdiction over regulation of ISPs/internet, then fine. Such a declaration is long overdue. But to expect Congress to pass net neutrality rules when it cannot even pass gas without help is tilting at windmills.

  3. Here is how I boil the debate down:

    1) Obviously, no one wants CNN.com blocked or throttled by Comcast because Comcast owns MSNBC.

    and the counter argument

    2) Why should Google be allowed to send ads through Comcast’s “pipes” for free?

    1. For number one, by the same token, FoxNews.com shouldn’t be blocked or throttled because they don’t pay a ransom to MSNBC’s parent company either. At some point in the future a very few number of people will be able to control what data gets to you and how quickly. There are those that say the government should control this delivery.

      For number 2, I don’t see that as a “counter argument”. If the contract I sign with Comcast says I’m paying for the delivery of a certain amount of data at a certain speed, then ALL they need to be concerned with is a. Am I getting the data and b. Am I getting the speed? The content of the data does not factor into it UNLESS they have me sign a NEW contract saying that it does. In that instance, if Comcast cuts a bad deal with me, that’s on them and the government shouldn’t be in the discussion. UNLESS the government owns the pipes, which I don’t think they do.

      1. you miss took what I said.
        CNN is just an example of possible blocking or throttling for economic reasons. If CNN.com is blocked or too slow you’ll go to MSNBC.com. This cuts access to information, and in this comparison, two important “points of view”. No one wants that.

        Google is injecting ads into the content you want and receive, this is how most of the internet runs, including MDN. Why can’t Comcast inject their own ads after blocking Google’s ads? (or charge Google a fee) That way, the cost to the consumer for the “pipes” could be lower.

        The two examples are counter to one another, in the first a clear reason NOT TO block/throttle and the second a clear reason TO block/throttle.

        1. I don’t think I mistook the first one, in the first case I just used a different media empire which might actually be blocked if they’re taken over by more liberal thinkers. Even if they don’t block it, they could stiff them for MORE than they’d ask for from MSNBC, which is just as bad. Comcast and TimeWarner is what most of us use. IF both of them decide to do a shakedown of the right after this gets removed…

          For the second, I think it’s only a “counter argument” if a person thinks that Comcast is owed anything for helping someone that’s NOT them make money. They went into the business selling access to data that was faster and more reliable than dialup. That was their end game. Someone ELSE figured out how to turn the fact that a LOT of people have faster-than-dialup access to the internet into a money making opportunity. Now that they can’t get more people to sign up because they see value in the service, they’re looking for ways to make more money from the same shrinking group of people. The second one isn’t a clear reason to block/throttle.

          I’m not sure there IS a clear reason to block/throttle. I’m trying to think of one, though.

      2. Wrong Again,

        I agree that if Comcast cuts a bad deal with you, that’s on them, but if the government isn’t in the discussion, what is your remedy?

        Perhaps you live in one of the places where there is genuine competition for high-speed internet service. If so, good for you; you can leave Comcast and get a better deal elsewhere. Most places, the only choice is between the only local telephone company and the only local cable company.

        Some of us don’t even have that much choice. My local phone company is Pioneer, which has no interest in improving its slow-speed internet service. At least I (unlike many Americans) can get a decent connection through the cable company, which has no competitive interest in lowering its prices.

        If the cable company were owned by Comcast, what would my remedy be if they started throttling data rates to every news and entertainment site that isn’t affiliated with NBCUniversal? If it were owned by Time Warner, what would my remedy be if they throttled everything other than CNN and the other Turner Broadcasting properties?

        Try zip.

        1. Oh, I’m wholly NOT in the boat MDN is in with this at all! Their point of “WE DON’T WANT GOVERNMENT TO DO ANYTHING UNTIL WE WANT THEM TO DO SOMETHING” just doesn’t make sense. It’s the kind of thing that you put in your head when you want to maintain “government = bad” but in reality, you also KNOW for a fact that corporations can stiff you for all they’re able to, as well. Since I-don’t-want-government-but-I-want-government isn’t logical, I go with If-Comcast-wants-it,-it’s-bad.

  4. The fact that every single tech company, Apple included supports net neutrality, and the big telecoms AT&T, Comcast, Cox, and Verizon (who Ajit Pai used to work for) don’t, and theta they’re lying about the competitive landscape should tell you all you need to know about this issue. While static rules aren’t necessarily perfect, they do provide rules to a game which can and will be deliberately played on the fringes of those rules. Think of it this way, if you have a football game would you get rid of all the lines on the field and basic rules of engagement which are officiated? No, otherwise you’d have a fight on your hands with no way to determine the outcome. The FCC May be an average referee, but but at least they can officiate. The FTC is more like the the refs went to sleep while one team is marching down the field using the holy roller play, and when they finally blow the whistle no one listens.

    1. and Apple and the rest don’t have tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars of cable and equipment “in the field” to connect each customer. And, Apple and google, for example, aren’t required to provide services to EVERY location in their service area.

    2. rp,

      No problem. If there is no regulation of data connections, nobody will be required to provide services to anybody in their service area who might not make the company a fat profit.

      Only utilities and common carriers are required to serve everybody who wants service. The FCC proposal specifically rejects the notion that internet service providers fall into either of those categories.

  5. “deregulation” is always sold to the suckers as the basis for future magical competition that will drive down prices for a good or service. the reality is it almost exclusively leads to consolidation and higher prices over the long haul. but hey, maybe this time it will be different

    1. It works?

      Have you taken an airline trip lately? Service has declined significantly, smaller markets have lost most of their service, there is less competition in larger markets, and real prices (including the new fees for food, luggage, aisle seats, etc.) on most routes are not any lower. Many individuals cannot fly at all any more unless they buy two of the undersized seats or risk deep artery thrombosis.

      I took a bus trip recently. Greyhound is also a deregulated monopoly that provides terrible customer service… so bad that most people prefer to pay much more to fly, even on routes where total travel time is comparable.

      In telecommunications, the AT&T monopoly was dissolved into the operating companies. Then Southwestern Bell bought almost all of the others and renamed itself the new AT&T. There are still just two national companies offering Plain Old Telephone Service, just as there were fifty years ago. Two major and two minor companies offer cell service (no counting virtual networks). There is considerably more choice in phone equipment, I will admit.

      Before deregulation, I only had one choice for telephone and data service in my home town. I now have two, and only the newer one provides a high-speed connection. There is still just one local company offering cable television service and two offering satellite TV. That is true most places in the US outside the densely-populated higher-income zip codes.

      Internet users outside the deregulated USA pay far less for far higher connection speeds.

      1. How can deregulation create monopolies? You really need a history lesson on everything you just stated. For example AT&T:

        When AT&T was deregulated, a flood of advances in technologies and cost reduction happened for the consumer (1980’s). It created customer choices which drove down cost (I know, I was there).

        Example #1 – Before they were deregulated, you couldn’t purchase your own home phone, you rented it monthly (not cheep). Now you can buy a good wireless house phones for $62. Thank Ronald Regan and deregulation.

        Example #2 – Do you think that we would have cell phones today if AT&T was not deregulated? No way!

        In 1960’s AT&T (as a regulated company) did a study that claimed, less than one million people would need wireless phones (radio based cell phones). They were really trying to hide this technology for fear of loosing on existing technology at that time. It took over 30 years and deregulation to have millions upon millions of people with wireless phones. Again, thank Ronald Regan for laying the ground work for the iPhone. Many people don’t even know what a “landline phone” is?

        All your other examples are just a bad! Stop listening to Bernie Sanders and his Socialist Venezuela message! He has it all wrong, even with net neutrality.

      2. wmd500,

        We were apparently living in different alternative universes during the 1980s. Yes, when the old AT&T stranglehold was broken, there was a flood of advances and choices that improved service massively and drove down costs. i was there, too.

        But how did you ever get the idea that any of that was the result of deregulation? Deregulation is the removal of government controls that impede free markets. The dissolution of the Ma Bell cartel was the exact opposite—it was the result of a massive intervention by government in the free market that had created a powerful monopoly.

        The Justice Department filed suit in 1974 against AT&T for anti-trust violations. It was using its near-monopoly position on local phone networks (and complete monopoly on long distance networks) to force anyone who wanted to use those networks to lease their equipment from an AT&T subsidiary. You could not use equipment like a handset or answering machine that you owned yourself or that was made by any other manufacturer.

        That wasn’t due to government regulation, as you argue, but entirely due to private company policy imposed on customers who had no alternative. The income from the equipment leases subsidized the operations of the networks, which were thus able to economically defeat any possible challenge to their monopolies.

        It took the Federal Government years of spectacularly expensive litigation before it finally forced AT&T into a consent decree that dismantled the Bell System in 1984. Again, that was not deregulation… it was government intervention on the greatest scale in American history since the breakup of the oil, steel, and railroad trusts in the early 1900s.

        The rapid advances in technology in the late 20th century that you describe occurred as a result of continuing government regulations to enforce competition, not to anything that could remotely be described as deregulation.

        Only after 15 years or so of vigorous competition enforced by government regulators, did the G. W. Bush Administration actually “deregulate” telecommunications. Within a very few years, the former Southwestern Bell had acquired almost all of the former Bell System companies and rebranded itself as “AT&T.”

        Once again, most American local phone networks, the major national long distance network, and the largest mobile phone network are under single management. They have essentially only one competitor, Verizon Communications. The two companies are in a position to suppress anyone else from entering the market in a significant way.

        The result of deregulation has thus been a significant decline in competition and innovation, and therefore increased prices for unimproved service.

        What makes you think that the complete deregulation of internet service providers will play out any differently?

  6. After all that overwrought prose, he writes: Congress can — and I believe should — pass specific net neutrality rules. So he’s in favor of Net Neutrality and Aunt Sadie is correct. Nice article. Could have been 47 words and said more.

  7. Maybe the most intentionally misleading statement in the whole document: “… the third such effort to do so after courts twice told the agency it had no legal authority to do so…”

    The courts absolutely DID NOT say the FCC had no legal authority to regulate ISPs and the courts DID NOT say the FCC had no legal authority to enforce Net Neutrality. The courts DID say that the FCC could not legally regulate ISPs in the manner they wanted to do so in the first two tries. The FCC tried to implement Net Neutrality n very simple language and by a simple means. The courts said it could not be done that way, twice. You only have to note that there have been no viable court challenges to the way Net Neutrality is currently implemented to understand that the FCC has the authority to implement what is currently in regulation.

  8. MDN take is a sad sack joke. As is the FCC’s position of “market forces wants to be free”.

    /Sarcasm/Because you know, nothing competes as well as local government granted monopolies that people are forced to use for lack of options./end/

    This reminds me of the “information wants to be free” cries from people justifying their own piracy.

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