Net Neutrality: Economic or Just Plain Creepy?
Most of you who read me frequently know what I'm obsessed with, it's not exactly subtle. I obviously get worked into a lather over Ben Bernanke far more often than Mrs. Bernanke I'm sure and there's a reason the Fed is my first favorite subject. Because they're fucking scandalous.
The second most scandalous thing I don't get to talk about very often because the central bankers are constantly acting up is freedom of information, specifically pertaining to the Internet. If they cut this cord, we'll never be able to overthrow "the Bloodless Coup."
While I don't give the issue nearly enough real estate, this is important. Back to those pricks at the Fed later.
Late Friday, details from the speech that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is going to give on Monday showed up in the Wall Street Journal. I hesitate to say ‘leaked’ because I rather doubt it was unintentional, having such news out over the weekend gives the market time to absorb the news. The message: the FCC plans to propose new rules enforcing network neutrality, apparently preventing all service providers, whether wired or wireless, from blocking or otherwise interfering with over-the-top traffic. I never thought it would get this far this quickly, but clearly the time has come to take stock of how this changes things.
Obviously over-the-top content providers will be ecstatic, as this will disperse a few of the storm clouds that have long sat above their future business models. Also, anyone in the bandwidth business who does not serve the consumer last mile will also be very happy, although they will hide their smiles. I am talking of carriers like Cogent Communications (CCOI: chart, news) and Level 3 Communications (LVLT: chart, news), as well as CDNs like Akamai (AKAM: chart, news) and Limelight Networks (LLNW: chart, news) who stand to make more money from those over-the-top content providers and simply benefit generally from ubiquitous toll-booth-free bandwidth.
However, we should recall that on the ground nothing changes in the wired arena. Currently I don’t know of any cable or DSL provider that is blocking or slowing traffic for any internet application. They have threatened to do it, claimed the right and the need to do it, and even tested means of doing it. But they have been unwilling or unable to withstand the backlash of actually doing it. For the vast majority of traffic right now, therefore, network neutrality rules are a solution for a potential problem only. It does change the weather, per se, as over the top providers may have greater assurance about the future. They will be emboldened, while service providers will have to find some other way to make their economics work or take their chances in court. Perhaps we will see the return of usage caps and bandwidth limits in a more virulent form than ever, and congestion management systems will find ways to stretch the rules. Or maybe the battle will just shift to the courts.
The key immediate concern, however, is what happens in the wireless space, where network neutrality is decidedly not in force right now. If the FCC declares network neutrality immediately, there are third party applications ready to be unleashed that could change the face of telecom.
EFF is watching and if you're writing about any of these things, you should know what's chugging along hot on all our tails:
In April, we voiced serious concerns about the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, a bill by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), that sought to give the federal government unprecedented power over the Internet. For months, the bill has been redrafted behind closed doors and has recently been circulated, but by all accounts, the changes are cosmetic and it's sadly more of the same.
Like the original bill, the new version appears to give the President carte blanche to decide which networks and systems, private or public, count as "critical infrastructure information systems or networks." And alongside that authority, there still appears to be murky language that would permit the President to shut down the Internet. Note the troubling provision in the original bill, which said:The President [...] may order the disconnection of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security;
The new bill says:The President [...] in the event of an immediate threat [...] may declare a cybersecurity emergency; and may, if the President finds it necessary for the national defense and security, and in coordination with relevant industry sectors, direct the national response to the cyber threat and the timely restoration of the affected critical infrastructure information system or network;
In other words, they appear to have packaged Presidential authority to shut down the Internet and other private networks behind a ribbon of red tape, and the words "national response."
Never did I imagine when I first heard that squeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ksssssh of AOL when I was just a freshman in high school (1994 - did I just date myself?) that we would be where we are today. At the risk of sounding like one more self-important blogger, I'm not talking about my cat here, I believe we are performing a public service in bypassing the hallucinatory mainstream media to transmit some sense of reality and logic as an alternative to that madness. Finance isn't nearly as complicated as they'd like you to think, so it's time to stop using that as an excuse for ignorance. No more squeeeeeeeeeeeee-ksssssh means you get your truth faster, sharper, and with better graphics. That doesn't mean the pipeline delivering it to you is any more resistant to interference than it was back in those days.
We won against Dennis Kneale, but can we win against the President?
How realistic is it to assume that things will not get that bad? Haven't you been watching?!?