FCC Deluged by Net Neutrality Comments Against Web-Killing “Fast Lane” Proposal

Numerous media outlets reported today that the FCC was inundated by last-minute comments on proposed net neutrality rules, and was forced by its server crashing as a result of the volume to extend its deadline to Friday. The agency has received 780,000 comments so far, more than it has ever received on a rule-making, and activists contend the real figure is higher.

In case you managed to miss it, the source of ire is a proposal by Chairman Tom Wheeler to allow local broadband companies to charge extra for a fast lane. Users and enterprenuers are concerned that this would allow the pipeline owners to increasingly discriminate as to what content gets access to the fast lane, which would entrench large and powerful content providers. As the New York Times summarized the state of play:

The agency is fine-tuning its rules to secure an open Internet, after a federal-court decision in January said it had to rethink its approach.

After the court ruling, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., proposed a path in step with the court ruling that would explicitly allow “commercially reasonable” deals. Such deals are typically for faster streaming of Internet content between broadband operators — phone and cable companies like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast — and online media distributors like Netflix and Google’s YouTube.

Mr. Wheeler’s plan, according to its many critics, would open the door to a two-tier Internet of fast and slow lanes, with affluent companies and households enjoying premium service and everyone else fighting traffic: a death knell for the open Internet and its democratic ethos of “net neutrality.”

A key development is that the agency is under increasing pressure to designate the Internet as a utility, which would give it the authority to impose rules. Wheeler, a former telecom and cable lobbyist, has, not surprisingly, been loath to take this step. But not only are comments coming in firmly in favor of this approach, but various officials are turning up the heat as well. From Politico:

A group of 13 senators urged Wheeler on Tuesday to adopt the Internet-as-utility strategy. Signing the letter were Democrats Ed Markey (Mass.), Al Franken (Minn.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) along with Independent Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

“If the FCC allows big corporations to negotiate fast lane deals, the Internet will be sold to the highest bidder,” Sanders said at a news conference. Franken called Wheeler’s proposal almost “Orwellian.”

Two Democratic state attorneys general — Eric Schneiderman of New York and Lisa Madigan of Illinois — also waded into the debate Tuesday, saying in their own comment that the FCC should avoid fast lanes and treat the Internet like a utility.

It’s surprising to see Schumer on the right side of this issue. That leads me to suspect that the venture capital industry and Wall Street, which has done very well with Internet-related IPOs, have stealthily joined this fight. They might not want to do it openly, since the telecom giants that are fighting for the fast lane are potential buyer of VC deals. That means unless a large swathe of the industry came together in opposition, it might be too risky for individual VCs to go on the warpath. But if I were in the VC business, I’d regard the “fast lane” idea as a potential killer of fledgling Internet businesses.

And many established tech executives are also joining the opposition. From the Wall Street Journal:

The comments are coming from individuals as well as companies whose business models rely on the Internet.

“If the proposed rules were in place when Etsy was founded, we would never have achieved the success we have today. Etsy, an online crafts site, and other startups will suffer if the FCC allows some companies to negotiate priority or exclusive access to consumers,” Etsy Inc. Chief Executive Chad Dickerson wrote.

Yancey Strickler, CEO of Kickstarter Inc., wrote that the company has “grave concerns” about the rule’s plan for “paid prioritization,” referring to the kinds of deals broadband providers could make with content companies for access to their fastest lanes.

“We fear the chilling effect these rules would have on innovation, the negative impact they would have on our culture, and the real harm they would do to companies like ours,” Mr. Strickler wrote.

However, despite the pointed interest of some high-profile Congressmen, the Journal deems the “Internet as utility” classification as having low odds, which appears to be based on Wheeler’s reluctance to go beyond using it as a threat (various experts contend its within the FCC’s authority).

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to write the FCC about net neutrality. Even more important, write your Congresscritters and tell them you expect them to fight for net neutrality. The powers that be need to be told loudly and clearly that the Internet is too important to let cable companies and telecom giants use it as a rent extraction device.

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  1. Scott

    I am deeply ambivalent about “Net Neutrality” and especially congressional action regarding the concept. Seeing the potential support of Wall Street adds to my concerns. As I see it, there are three key aspects of net neutrality:
    1. Ensuring that ISP don’t discriminate against certain content based upon political views or competition.
    2. Controlling prices charged to certain internet users (content providers)
    3. Enshrining Tech’s controls over the internet

    The propaganda we get focuses on the first two, and proposes remedies that don’t seem to address very real concerns that people have the price structure. For example, should every home have the same electric bill regardless of consumption? Consumers would be better off if ISP were forced to use a published tariff structure, which incorporated both speed and monthly usage – this is similar structure that is used in natural gas, as customers often need to pay more for higher pressure gas.

    The last point is probably the most important but least discussed aspect of net neutrality. At the moment, certain companies have enormous control over the internet and people’s access to information. These companies enjoy this status and the money the comes with it. They are loath to give up this control. How many times has Google changed its algorithm directing traffic away from sites that compete with it for ad revenue? I would be much more likely to support net neutrality if it was accompanied by search neutrality, but we all know that will never happen.

    This debate is increasingly looking like any other debate between big business, only one (Silicon Valley) is much better at getting the public on their side than the other (Verizon, Comcast etc.)

    1. Adam Noel

      I think the whole debate over net neutrality is just as you say. This is a debate between big business and the people, due to holding onto a early 90s utopian vision of the internet, are fully backing one while ignoring the downsides of the one that they are backing.

      Sure ISPs could discriminate against certain content based on political views or competition but facebook and content aggregating sites are already effectively discriminating against certain content based on political views or competition. The influence of these websites is already so powerful that the internet is already far from neutral.The internet is not some land of free opinions but a brilliant show of smoke and mirrors.

      If it was ever discovered that Verizon/Comcast was censoring political viewpoints the resultant outrage could lead to effective political change. It’s much more effective to allow people to view what they want but to restrict what they view through manipulation of human psychology. The truth is hidden in plain sight and that’s why its so well concealed. When they discover the truth was there all along there’s no outrage, no analysis and no questions.

      There is no such thing as net neutrality but labouring under the belief that the net is neutral is dangerous. The net becomes increasingly less neutral and its something people need to understand. Google manipulates search traffic. Content aggregation sites manipulate routine user traffic. Both of these are much more subtle and powerful.

      1. Tinky

        Facebook and other such sites have power because many individuals have chosen to use them. If a good enough percentage chose to abandon them, as happened with AOL, to use one example, then their power would be curtailed. That is entirely different than an ISP deciding which entities are allowed to use fast lanes.

        Furthermore, one can still access the smallest blog at approximately the same speed as Facebook, and that will certainly not be the case should the ISPs get their way.

        1. Adam Noel

          I don’t think those sites wield power because people chose to use them. Initially people may chose to use those sites but eventually the social disadvantage of using those sites becomes sizable and people coerced due to group inertia. Sure a new platform could come around but the power is still centralized in one location where increasingly information is controlled as a means to try and generate ad revenue.

          Also, I do agree that ISPs do not get their way but this debate is essentially about who controls the flow of information over the internet. We can’t give all search and content flow manipulation a pass because people chose to use those sites. Sure your ISP could censor a blog but the blog never appearing in the new feeds you frequent is the essentially the same.

          My fear is that the debate is too limited in scope and motivated some of the tech sector’s interests aligning with ours. The debate is about the flow of information over the internet but limited in focus because some of the tech sector’s interests align with limiting the debate.

    2. Marianne Jones

      As an official member of the malleable “public” I call a wee bit of bullpucky. As a consumer, I pay my ISP for a certain down/up speed rate that comes with an idiotic data cap. I choose what sites I use. ISP hysteria about content providers “not paying” them for delivering their data is factually incorrect. Content providers do not push their content to subscribers. Internet data is not like unrequested direct mail advertisements that clogs our physical mailboxes. I, the consumer, request a content provider to send me specific data. I pay my ISP for exactly this ability and I pay at rates higher than in other comparable countries, for worse service levels.

      Furthermore, the argument that content providers “do not pay” is also factually incorrect. Content providers pay their hosting providers for the amount data they upload, a speed at which that data is upload, and the number of connections supplied.

      With internet “fast-lanes” ISPs are attempting to stand between me and the content providers and extract further rent for services already paid for. As a consumer, I demand my traffic by prioritized by my usage, not by content providers or ISPs.

      ISPs who complain that their infrastructure is inadequate to the task ought reinvest corporate profits into infrastructure.

    3. ScottTx

      Your understanding of net neutrality is misleading. This from Wikipedia:

      “net neutrality [i]s an absence of discrimination, saying it ensures Internet providers cannot block, speed up, or slow down content on the basis of who owns it, where it came from, or where it’s going. It helps create the situation where any site on the Internet could potentially reach an audience as large as that of a TV or radio station, and its loss would mean the end for this level of freedom of expression.”

      This makes the internet a common carrier, or utility if you will, leaving room for technical modifications to the utility infrastructure if said modifications improve the overall effectiveness. In my mind this is a no-brainer. I can see no good coming from allowing providers to meddle with my use of the pipe. The only ones who would benefit are the providers – at the expense of everyone else. This is rent-taking in its most perfect form.

  2. Lafayette


    In fact, the point (of “fast lanes”) might be moot.

    The problem at present is that movie-providers (e.g. Netflix) want people to be able to download a movie in minutes, which facilitates the sale/rental of the product. If they all wanted a movie for the after-supper hours and they ordered it in the morning, the present copper-cable DSL-service more than likely can send it well within the time necessary. But if customers want it in the same time-zone as everybody else, and that means in the after-dinner hours (6/8PM), which could put a substantial transmission charge onto the copper-cable Internet service.

    At best, the US has copper-cable to the doorstep, not fibre-optic cable, and there is a difference of 1 to 10 in the speeds. (Comcast says its copper-cable speed is between 20 and 30 M-bits per second, whereas the top speed of fiber-optic speed is closer to 300Mbps.)


    So, all we need do is install fiber-optic cable throughout the US in order to benefit from higher-speed internet services – and in that manner everybody would have a “fast lane». Or a fast-enough lane.

    In fact, as regards transportation, why not a super-fast train line to compete with commercial airlines in downtown to downtown transportation – at a much cheaper cost, both money- and pollution-wise.

    MY POINT? (About the Internet)

    My point is that if the US had an overarching vision of the Internet Technology it needed and therefore wanted in the future, then there would be a way to develop it. But no, everybody is waiting for telecoms companies to make the first advances in deliverable product (typically based upon prototypes developed at universities). In that manner both companies and universities can share in profits.

    And Jack ‘n Jill America can pay for both. It’s a method, to be sure. But is it the best method? Methinks not.

    The Internet is the most important development of mankind since the Gutenberg Bible made printing the principle means of communication. A nation should have its hands on the helm of Internet development and usage, not some VC-nerds in Silicon Valley. Been there, done that: Look what happened to Indexation Technology that was supposed to revolutionize finding information over the Internet. Developed at a university by two students, Google has grown to be the Internet-search behemoth so large it has to warn itself “to do no evil”.

    And one is led to wondering if anybody is heeding that rule. European courts (not the US) have just required Google, in a landmark legal ruling, to remove some information of a personal nature from its archives that could have a deleterious effect upon the person involved. Why was such protection not “built-in” in the first place?

    Because Internet usage has been organic and unplanned, thus making it possibly dangerous in some circumstance.

    Netflix’s sales of Hollywood movies are NOT really that central an event … what we want to do as a nation about Internet Connectivity is indeed the key point …

    1. sd

      Content providers can simply embargo content for delivery at staggered hours to avoid everyone flushing the proverbial Super Bowl toilet at the same time. The days of tuning in at 8pm to watch your favorite show are over especially in a world where many are just watching shows on their smart phones. That’s not to say fiber optic isn’t needed. It’s just a different issue. Providers would still have the ability to control traffic flow even with better toobz. Just because service is faster does not mean they will allow us to experience that speed. Remember, this is about extracting rent – and they want ways to get more rent out of us.

      1. Lafayette

        Providers would still have the ability to control traffic flow even with better toobz.

        Yes, somewhat, but not as much as they would like.

        Just because service is faster does not mean they will allow us to experience that speed.

        Quite right, but neither has current level of speed-control prevented them from having a go at the FCC to get a “really fast lane”. After all, if a CEO does not at least “try”, then their BoD rakes them over the coals.

        After all, what Jack ‘n Jill America really want is instant gratification, which has become a hallmark of a great many consumer markets – especially food. So they like to decide at the last minute to watch a film and, faster than your accompanying pizza-at-the-door, you have it!

        It’s called “customer accommodation/satisfaction” and is at the heart of any Internet Based Service Provider’s offering.

        I, for one, can understand why the ISPs are giving it a try. I would be damn surprised, after the monumental brouhaha that has risen, that they get. But, we are not to worry, next Replicant PotUS and they will neuter the FCC and try again! Count on it.

        That’s what our LeadHead PotUS did with SCotUS from 2000 onward, and it has worked wonders. Replicants are for BigBusiness; always have been, always will be.

        No doubt about it …

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      No, you’ve got the network architecture wrong.

      Copper and fiber are dedicated pipes. There’s no “everyone piles on at 6PM” issue. If you are having that problem with a DSL provider, they are messing with you to justify charing more for faster services. Seriously.

      Cable is a shared pipe. They DO have a peak traffic problem, particularly if they haven’t built out their network properly

      1. Lafayette

        For the moment, fiber-optic cabling is doing the major hefting between major interconnection centers. Some to-the-doorstep wide-area fiber-optic networks are installed as well. But for the greater public it is, yes, copper-cable that comes to the neighborhood and then to the doorstep.

        My point is this: When it came to interstate communication, we did not “wait” for business to construct the highways. It was a Federally financed implementation – uniform and one price for all. Ferraris were not allowed to pay to go faster.

        I maintain that the same should be implemented for the Internet, and indeed should be given its huge importance in our lives; and that ISPs be ISPs. That is, they provide Internet Services (which means content) but not the network-pipes. Those pipes are mostly in the hands of the ex-MaBell affiliates and have become local monopolies (of a sort). Which is one reason why interconnection costs in the US are higher than elsewhere in the world and also why the FCC has a voice in the matter of Communication Services.

        We have lost our notion, I submit, of a Public Utility – that is a utilitarian usage of any service that should be available at a fair cost to all customers (the “public”) at all times without favoritism based upon pricing-policy.

        And for as much as the Replicants extol the benefits of “Competition”, what they like most are cozy oligopolies with “sticky pricing” and as little competition as humanly possible.

        1. Carla

          Not only that, we have lost our notion of a “Public.”

          In your comment a few above, Lafayette, you conclude ” what we want to do as a nation about Internet Connectivity is indeed the key point …”

          Is it apparent to you that we are ABLE to do anything as a nation? Even in the unlikely event that we could agree upon ‘What we want to do as a nation’?

          1. Lafayette

            I give up, Carla.

            I did post a lengthy reply to your question, and it’s not on-line. Probably because it contained external links …

  3. PaulArt

    I am sure its not my imagination but I am seeing more and more troll activity here at NC in recent days. New names are popping up frequently – these tend to be more a ‘ad hoc’ user who are hawking the crony capitalist neo-liberal balderdash.

    1. Ben Johannson

      You mean the sort who argue net neutrality doesn’t matter because some companies are too big, so screw it?

      1. Lafayette

        Rather, are too big already to need to screw-it?

        It seems like we are going down yet another rathole, just as we did with Health Care. Because BigInsurance had healthcare all wrapped up and pumping great incomes for practitioners and even greater profits for BigInsurance … then that was just fine. (Want to profit from the rip-off? Buy Insurance stocks! Hey, stupid question!!!)

        America has been aggressively consolidating markets since the 1960, and the Attorney Generals have not been applying the Sherman Act with all that much temerity. So, we have oligopolistic markets, and the Internet is just another of that kind.

        We rant on for pages about the 1Percenters. But how did 1Percenters become 1Percenters? Many by being the captains of large corporations and benefiting from huge bonuses and especially stock-market options. And why were these stock-options providing such juicy incomes taxed at ridiculously low rates of around 30%? (Romney supposedly was being taxed at half that rate!) Because consolidated markets with only two, three, four players are oligopolies and they provide great revenues.

        The heads of which hire certain DC-lobbyists, and give to political fund-raising PACs to assure that Congress goes along without too much of a hassle – because funding is the key to electoral longevity.

        We’re being had. It is so damn obvious …

        1. ewmayer

          I think you intended “assiduity” or “zeal”, rather the opposites of “temerity”. We *wish* the DO(in)J regularly applied the Sherman Act with temerity. :)

    1. Vatch

      Here’s an interesting perspective on this episode. The low paid Comcast employee was desperately trying to avoid losing a significant percentage of his wages:


      “Comcast uses “gates” for their incentive pay, which means that if you fall below a certain threshold (which tend to be stretch goals in the first place) then instead of getting a reduced amount, you get 0$. Let’s say that if you retain 85% of your customers or more (this means 85% of the lines of businesses that customers have when they talk to you, they still have after they talk to you), you get 100% of your payout—which might be 5-10$ per line of business. At 80% you might only get 75% of your payout, and at 75% you get nothing.”


      “So in short, yesterday we were all listening to a deeply fearful employee trying to hold onto his paycheck.”

      1. Ray Phenicie

        Back in the day when Ameritech was the local phone company here in Michigan, I had a job in collections. The management there did exactly the same thing you are talking about except for collections; if I did not meet the quota of say $119,000 in collecting on past due accounts, I would be put on a short list for that month. Three times on the list and I was due for suspension.
        I left the job 15 months into the torment; one aspect of which was the chronic lying by other reps.
        Some of the reps had a pat line for all callers-“Your services are due to be shut off in three days, to prevent that you have to pay by midnight tomorrow.” Enough people believed this line (which was only true less than 20% of the time) that they would pay immediately. Of course a lot would not fall for and would call back to make payment arrangements.

  4. mellon

    What is wrong with this country? An analogy could be made to health care. Except there being is the slow lane means getting inferior, gag-claused care and having to pay huge, crippling co pays for drugs and doctor appointments. A system designed to prevent the poor from getting needed care. A lot of (financial or other) stress also irreversibly damages delicate, irreplaceable structures in human brains.

    And look at what the US is doing overseas, trying to force our broken health care on the UK

    1. Carla

      You mean David Cameron and company can’t wreck the National Health and the UK on their own? Geez…what wusses.

  5. Vatch

    Just a reminder of something that most NC readers already know. The Internet was financed by American taxpayers. It started as the ARPAnet (ARPA = [Defense] Advanced Research Projects Agency), and it was expanded so that more people could use it with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, as well as by later U.S. government investments.

    And now some huge corporations are making vast profits from the investment by U.S. taxpayers. Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, etc., should all be paying royalties to the people who funded the Internet.

  6. Ray Phenicie

    Something of a side issue came up in the discussion above regarding speed of fiber optic for internet (not cable); from a Wikipedia article about Google Fiber:
    Google Fiber will provide an Internet connection speed of one gigabit per second (1,000 Mbit/s) for both download and upload which is roughly 100 times faster access than what most Americans have. Google Fiber says its service allows for the download of a full movie in less than two minutes.
    http://www.speedtest.net/my-result/3629144388 showed my download speed to be
    5.07Mb/s (that’s megabytes or about 41 Mbit/s, Google fiber is about 25 times faster. Upload is pathetic at 0.65Mb/s. I can barely upload photos to my web site.

    Fiber optic wiring requires vastly different technology than copper wiring and so it is not widely available. However, a quick check on Google search shows several locations around the country. I remember Al Gore’s superhighway rhetoric and was sure we were being promised fiber optic service down to the last mile and into the homes of millions of Americans. In fact there is a tax on landline phone service that is supposed to fund that; we can see the phone companies took the money and ran.

    In my home area of Southfield, Michigan, DSL was finally upgraded so it is more equal throughout the city after a class action law suite forced AT&T to upgrade their DSL to advertised speeds. That happened about five years ago. We are about fifteen years behind on fiber optic technology in this country.
    Super highway dimensions are possible as this article shows:
    Novel multicore fiber design enables 1.05 petabit/s that 1.05 x 10 to the 15th power bits per second. Maybe my great grandchildren will see this reach their homes one day.

    1. JTFaraday

      Google says one can download an entire movie in 2 minutes! I don’t know why I would need to do that, but okay.

      I also don’t know why Google, which is basically an algorithm in search of a country, would want to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the ground–even with all that corporate welfare they’re working hard to extract from dipsh*t mayors in the red states. Especially if this arms race isn’t over yet:


      East coast? West coast? It looks like it’s a hip hop war going on. Who will be Suge Knight?


  7. Keith Ackermann

    This will just pour fuel on black market activities around the Internet. I have Netflix, but I’m not sure why, considering I can download a greater variety of movies from BitTorrent right now. Tor is already setting up Bridge services that make it virtually impossible for ISP’s to block Tor. I’m sure SSL-based client-server services (non P2P) that can thwart deep-packet inspection will sprout like mushrooms. The only reason they haven’t so far is lack of need/demand. I think that’s all about to change anyway.

    1. hunkerdown

      About bridges.. “Researchers from the University of Michigan developed a network scanner allowing identification of 86 percent of live Tor ‘bridges’ with a single scan” which takes about 45 minutes for the whole IPv4 space. I could easily imagine bridges being accumulated (by whatever means) and blocked by non-stateful (therefore pretty fast) packet filters “for legitimate network management purposes”, reducing the available bandwidth for bridging.

      Unfortunately, the cat-and-mouse game doesn’t stop just because the mouse says so.

      1. Keith Ackermann

        That’s for the info and links. So Tor already has a counter for zmap with obfuscated bridges. https://zakird.com/slides/eurecom-zmap-https.pdf

        Also, it’s easy to envision a file sharing app which also sets up a Tor relay configured as a bridge. Tor itself would love it because it would add to the overall strength of Tor.

        But point taken. If the backbone providers are allowed to extract greater and greater rents via monopoly, then they will. But at what ultimate cost? If capitalism is allowed to work, these tolls should set off a scramble for ISP’s to reach more customers, then competing providers should, in theory, compete on cost and performance. The tolls will be minimized, and performance should grow in big bounds. Those are big assumptions. It will probably be allowed to turn into a de-facto cartel. Data is the new oil.

  8. LucyLulu

    Marsha Blackburn introduced an amendment to a financial appropriations bill in the House of Representatives
    yesterday that would allow states to pass laws that trump the FCC on local internet projects, thus restricting the availability of alternative providers. The amendment got a majority vote and was added to HR2016 today. For a better explanation:


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