Getting Serious on Net Neutrality (or How Congress Killed Internet Startups)

Getting Serious on Net Neutrality

UPDATE February 26, 2015: Today the FCC voted in favor of reclassifying internet access under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The 3-2 vote was, according to this time.com article, split along party lines, with Republican officials voting against it, and Democrats in favor of the reclassification that would protect net neutrality nation-wide. It is now expected that various trade industry groups with monetary backing from firms such as AT&T and Comcast, among others, will proceed with multiple lawsuits in an attempt to force a court to overturn the FCC's decision on this matter, or eradicate its authority, as it pertains to regulating the internet, entirely. In the author's opinion, it would not be surprising to see this battle eventually wind up in the Supreme Court within a few years.</p>

UPDATE February 6, 2015: Tom Wheeler (Chairman, FCC) has announced that he will indeed propose to the commission that the FCC regulate broadband (mobile and otherwise) under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. This means that the commission will vote on whether or not to do this. The announcement itself is equivalent to winning a battle in the war - not the whole thing.

Additionally, it is largely expected for ISPs to band together in a massive lawsuit to prevent the FCC from enforcing these rules, should the commission vote in favor of Mr. Wheeler’s proposal. This fight will, in the author’s opinion, eventually wind up in the Supreme Court.

Finally, Congressional Republicans are reported to have two major strategies in play to defeat this: one is to introduce new legislation that would recognize net neutrality as law, but prevent the FCC from enforcing it. The second is to rewrite portions of the Communications Act to strip the FCC of its legal powers.

In light of these facts, it is very important to contact your senators, representative, and all five members of the FCC’s Commission listed below to voice your support for granting the FCC power to enforce real net neutrality.

</div> </div> [Net Neutrality](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU). We’ve all heard the term, and we’ve heard of the fights going on in the halls of Congress for years now. But right now - in February 2015 - the fight is heating up and coming to a head. [Engine Yard](http://www.engineyard.com/trial) generally avoids entering into the political fray. It’s a lose-lose proposition for most companies to take a stand on political issues of any kind, simply because of the plethora of opinions involved. However, on this issue, we believe it is important to speak up. Our customers build and deploy web applications. Those applications consume bandwidth in a variety of ways - API access, streaming media, pictures of cute and cuddly kittens - you name it. But if net neutrality isn’t made law, our costs could go up, which means we would have to charge our customers more. This would make it harder for our customers, especially smaller firms, to succeed, which is a concern for the future of our business and theirs. In other words, a lack of a real net neutrality law threatens our ability to operate and make our customers successful. So, why is the fight for net neutrality heating up now? The FCC is expected to vote on new net neutrality rules on February 26, 2015. “But wait,” I hear someone asking, “didn’t we already win the net neutrality vote last year?” Well, yes...and no. What happened last year was simply a vote to allow public comment on proposed rules for net neutrality. Essentially, denizens of the internet had to fight tooth-and-nail just to get the right to be heard on the issue. That vote resulted in hundreds of thousands of comments submitted via [fcc.gov](http://www.fcc.gov/), the vast majority in strong support of requiring ISPs to treat all internet traffic equally. The February 26 vote is meant to ask the FCC’s five-member voting panel whether or not to reclassify broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act as a public utility. What that means: if reclassified as a public utility under Title II, ISPs will not be able to discriminate on the source, destination or contents of internet traffic. They will have to treat all traffic equally. This vote would also grant the FCC a great deal of regulatory power over broadband internet in the United States, essentially granting them the same powers they now hold over telephone companies. ## Threats Emerge All is not sunshine and puppy dogs, however. [Recent announcements about this vote](http://www.cnet.com/news/fcc-chairman-confirms-net-neutrality-vote-for-february/) are sure to spur even more lobbyist action, frantically spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (“FUD”) about the future of the internet if the FCC were to be granted regulatory authority over it. In a nearly partisan split, Congressional Republicans have introduced several separate bills, one of which is designed to set net neutrality as the law of the land, but intentionally prevent the FCC from wielding any regulatory power to enforce that law. (Imagine a rule saying, “don’t steal things” but having no police to enforce it; will things get stolen? Yep.) Congressional Democrats, as well as President Obama, appear generally in favor of real net neutrality by imparting regulatory power to the FCC. Additionally, it remains to be seen whether or not the FCC’s voting panel will yield to popular opinion, or big money. ## The Other Point of View In the interest of fairness, the other point of view on the matter - the point of view held by some who oppose net neutrality - may have some appeal to those who share the ideas behind “[trickle-down economics](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickle-down_economics)”. (Full disclosure: the author wholeheartedly disagrees with this point of view in this specific case, as well as most like it, but it is explained here in the interest of fairness.) There are various points that opposition may be considering. One - the simpler of the two discussed herein - is that by assuming power to regulate the internet, the FCC is expanding the size, power, and role of the federal government beyond its necessary and/or intended scope. The idea, simply, is that they’re going for a power grab. This can actually be dangerous in the future, should the FCC decide to cave to specific forms of pressure from external, well-funded parties because they would have the legal authority and the precedent necessary to create new rules that may not benefit consumers, and therefore no one would be able to legally stop them without a herculean effort. The more economically-focused point of view, however, sees the “Internet of Things” as a creeping cancer, creating additional cost for ISPs. With the demand for bandwidth increasing nationwide as more and more devices are connected to the internet, there will be a major demand for more telecommunications infrastructure to be put in place from coast to coast. This is, of course, far from cheap - it costs a great deal of money to deal with permits, land rights issues, surveying the soil, looking at property lines and handling other potential legal matters. And that’s before a single shovel starts digging. Once all those items are handled, then the actual work of laying those lines begins. Work crews are hired, material is bought and shipped to the location, then connected to the internet backbone. Laying new infrastructure like this is a multi-million dollar operation that can take years, especially when litigation ties things up. One can argue (whether they do so successfully or not is another matter) that opposition to net neutrality, thus allowing providers to charge heaviest bandwidth services (e.g. Netflix) an additional fee, would result in more funds available for laying new telecommunications infrastructure. ## Counter-argument The problem with this reasoning is that it assumes telecommunications providers will act in an altruistic way, instead of one firmly rooted in greed. The truth is, due to their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, that they will assess the highest possible fees while providing the slowest possible bandwidth (within reason and within market competition parameters for a given area) to stave off **HAVING** to lay more infrastructure. In other words, the longer you can go without adding new infrastructure, all the while gutting everyone for larger fees, the more successful shareholder profit will be. This is how companies will operate because it’s their job. They won’t act in the best interest of individuals, but in their own short-to-medium term self interest centered firmly around increasing revenue without building new infrastructure (adding expense). ## Take Action Rule number one of politics: big money wins.
Rule number two of politics: big money loses only when small voices **get impossibly loud to ignore**. While Congress votes on granting regulatory authority to the FCC to enforce net neutrality, it’s the FCC that must vote to actually impose a net neutrality rule. This is why it’s important to contact both senators, your representative, and all five FCC leaders listed below. Most political staffers agree that it’s more effective to place a phone call (even if you have to leave a voicemail) on issues than writing an e-mail. The reasoning is that an e-mail (or a tweet, or a comment form, etc.) takes less time and effort to send, and therefore the issue must not be as important to you as if you’d called. Logically valid or not, this is the “reasoning” by which much of Washington operates. The fine folks at [Fight for the Future](https://www.fightforthefuture.org/) have created a [simple tool](https://www.battleforthenet.com/) that connects you by phone to your senators, representative, and the FCC. They even have a script you can read word-for-word if you like, and, as I discovered when I made the call, these offices do have voicemail systems that work (although some mailboxes were full when I placed my call through the tool). If you’d prefer to do things the old fashioned way, you can use tools at [house.gov](http://www.house.gov/) and [senate.gov](http://www.senate.gov/) to find your representative and senators, respectively. Additionally, you can contact the FCC Chairman and Commissioners using the information below (all of which was obtained from [fcc.gov](http://www.fcc.gov)): Tom Wheeler, Chairman (202) 418-1000 [tom.wheeler@fcc.gov](mailto:tom.wheeler@fcc.gov) Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner (202) 418-0000 [mignon.clyburn@fcc.gov](mailto:mignon.clyburn@fcc.gov) Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner (202) 418-2400 [jessica.rosenworcel@fcc.gov](mailto:jessica.rosenworcel@fcc.gov) Ajit Pai, Commissioner (202) 418-2000 [ajit.pai@fcc.gov](mailto:ajit.pai@fcc.gov) Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner (202) 418-2300 [mike.o'rielly@fcc.gov](mailto:mike.o'rielly@fcc.gov) ### But What Do I Say? Most readers of our blog are technology professionals. Lean on that experience - it’s obvious Congress and FCC leadership have none of their own. Let them know that as an expert in this field, you strongly support real net neutrality, and you support giving the FCC regulatory authority to enforce a strong net neutrality rule. ### A Call to Action If you live in the United States, please make a call to your senators and representative, as well as the FCC names above, today. If net neutrality doesn’t become the law of the land, startups will have a much harder time getting started and costs for doing business will rise by necessity. (Note: It’s totally OK to call outside of east coast business hours. All of the aforementioned offices for the FCC have voicemail capabilities, and as far as I’m aware, all congressional offices have voicemail as well.) For those of you outside the United States, keep an eye on your local and national government for legislation that “smells” like this, and do what you can to prevent it from taking hold in your country. Additionally, contact any of your friends in the United States and ask them to take action. Feel free to point them to this article if you like. The only way common people will win over large corporate interests is by making such deafening noise that we simply cannot be ignored. **Get loud**

About J. Austin Hughey

J. Austin Hughey is a member of our Professional Services team. He focuses on Ruby, Rails and development operations, and organizes OpenHack Austin.