The Trump Administration’s FCC Tries to Roll Back Net Neutrality

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

“Net neutrality” is one of those unexciting-sounding concepts, like “food safety” or “indoor plumbing,” that in fact has immense infrastructural implications, both for people’s daily lives and for our political economy as a whole. In summary, if you want access to the internet to look like this, you should be against net neutrality, like the administration’s new chair at the FCC (via):

If you don’t, then you should be for net neutrality. In this post, I’ll explain what net neutrality is, review how net neutrality was protected under the Obama administration, how and why the Trump administration seeks to remove that protection, take a quick look at the current state of play, and conclude with how contact the FCC to share your views.

What Is Net Neutrality?

The term “net neutrality” was coined by Tim Wu (interviewed at NC here when he was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York). In fact, Wu wrote the FAQ (which you should read in its entirety):

Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.

That’s more than a little wonky, so let’s give an English translation. From the Google:

The principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

And if you think about how you “surf the web,” treating “all content, sites, and platforms equally” (“access to all content and applications regardless of the source “) pretty much describes how your Internet works; you can click seamlessly from a small blog like Naked Capitalism to an enormous website like Google’s search page to YouTube or Vimeo for video to satellite imagery from NASA to a Bear Cam in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Who could be against that?

Well, I’m not going to describe the entire corporate landscape of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and all their incentives (telcos large and small, cable companies, satellite dish companies, etc). But here’s a high-level metaphor: The Internet was famously described by then-Alaska Senator Ted Stevens as “a series of tubes” (the “Intertubes”). What if you not only owned one of those tubes, but you owned some of the data — but not all! — of the data flowing, like water, through your tubes? (Much like Time-Warner owns a tube, and also rents movies — data — on demand.) Wouldn’t you want to maximize the profit from your control of your tube — and cripple your competitors — by giving your data priority? Of course you would. Hence the reductio ad absurdum of the image above. And hence the necessity for regulation to ensure, as Tim Wu puts it, “a maximally useful public information network” (emphasis mine).

How the Obama Administration Protected Net Neutrality

Although the Obama administration initially set the table for net neutrality’s abolition — its choice for FCC Commissioner, Tom Wheeler, was a tube cable lobbyist — a successful grassroots campaign — which, besides online activists, also included corporate heavweights that benefit from net neutrality, like Google — ultimately led in 2015 to net neutrality’s adoption, as the FCC decided to regulate ISPs under Title II of the Communications Act as common carriers. (This is like treating ISPs as public utilities, and the issue is often framed that way, but the two are not identical in function or law). Tim Wu explains “common carrier”:

The concept of a “common carrier,” dating from 16th century English common law, captures many similar concepts [to open access and anti-discrimination remedies for “threats to the end-to-end nature of the Internet”]. A common carrier, in its original meaning, is a private entity that performs a public function (the law was first developed around port authorities).

Taxis, for example, are common carriers. After stopping for you in the tube street, your taxi driver can’t discriminate by handing you a different rate sheet if they don’t like the look of you, or refuse to take you to your destination. (And when they do, they’re failing in their duty.)

Ars Technica explains how the common carrier concept operates for ISPs under the FCC’s ruling:

FCC officials also provided further background in a phone call with reporters today. One thing they were clear on: this isn’t “utility-style regulation,” because there will be no rate regulation, Internet service providers (ISPs) won’t have to file tariffs, and there’s no unbundling requirement that would force ISPs to lease network access to competitors.

But the order does reclassify ISPs as common carriers, regulating them under Title II of the Communications Act, the same statute that governs telephone companies.

Internet providers will be common carriers in their relationships with home Internet and mobile broadband customers; they will also be common carriers in their relationships with companies that deliver content to subscribers over the networks operated by ISPs. That includes online content providers such as Amazon or Netflix.

The ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization is the biggest takeaway. “Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices… may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices… [and] may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration—in other words, no ‘fast lanes.’ This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates,” the FCC said. The core provisions of Title II banning “unjust and unreasonable practices” will be used to enforce these rules.

In other words, the tube owners won’t be able to maxmize profit from their control of their tubes by treating data owned by others differently data they own themselves, exactly like taxi drivers can’t discriminate against riders, because taxis are common carriers. The New York Times gives the political background for the FCC decision. From 2015:

The new rules, approved 3 to 2 along party lines, are intended to ensure that no content is blocked and that the Internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for Internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else. Those prohibitions are hallmarks of the net neutrality concept.

Before the vote, each of the five commissioners spoke and the Republicans delivered a scathing critique of the order as overly broad, vague and unnecessary. Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner, said the rules were government meddling in a vibrant, competitive market and were likely to deter investment, undermine innovation and ultimately harm consumers.

Opponents of the new rules, led by cable television and telecommunications companies, say adopting the Title II approach opens the door to bureaucratic interference with business decisions that, if let stand, would reduce incentives to invest and thus raise prices and hurt consumers.

Supporters of the Title II model include many major Internet companies, start-ups and public interest groups. In a statement, Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association, which includes Google, Facebook and smaller online companies, called the F.C.C. vote “a welcome step in our effort to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules.”

The F.C.C.’s yearlong path to issuing rules to ensure an open Internet precipitated an extraordinary level of political involvement, from grass-roots populism to the White House, for a regulatory ruling. The F.C.C. received four million comments, about a quarter of them generated through a campaign organized by groups including Fight for the Future, an advocacy nonprofit.

Ajit Pai is, of course, the new FCC commissioner under the incoming Trump Administration, which immediately moved to re-open the debate and roll back the ISPs Title II designation, as the 3-2 party line votes suggests they would. Since none of power players or financial incentives have changed, we can expect quite a battle.[1] And exactly as in 2015, we should not assume the battle is lost. It isn’t.

How the Trump Administration Seeks to Eliminate Net Neutrality

Here’s the PDF of Pai’s full speech, where he begins his assault.[2] Gizmodo has a fine summary here, of which I’ll pull out just one point, since I’ve been focusing on those tubes and, as the first image shows, what the “Intertubes” would look like if those tube owners weren’t forced to act as common carriers:

In his speech, Pai said “Nothing about the Internet was broken in 2015. Nothing about the law had changed. And there wasn’t a rash of Internet service providers blocking customers from accessing the content, applications, or services of their choice.”

This is incredibly disingenuous. Note how Pai said ISPs weren’t blocking traffic to certain sites, because sure, that wasn’t happening. But blocking wasn’t the only kind of harm prevented by the net neutrality order: it also had bright-line rules against paid prioritization and throttling, where ISPs would limit or boost traffic to certain websites.

One of the most high-profile examples of abuse was Comcast throttling traffic to Netflix in order to extract a payment deal from the streaming video provider, which it eventually agreed to pay. And in 2012, AT&T blocked FaceTime on iPhones, claiming it was using too much bandwidth. In this case, critics argued it was an attempt to block a service that competed with its own voice services. And as the biggest ISPs keep gobbling up content-producers, like AT&T buying DirectTV and then providing free access to its content, the risks that ISPs will start prioritizing traffic only increase.

(There are plenty of other specious arguments in Pai’s screed, like the idea that net neutrality — as opposed to monopolization — is preventing ISPs from investing in infrastructure. I’m sure we’ll get to all of them over time.) Tim Wu explains what’s really going on — ka-ching — on the opinion page of the New York Times. Speaking to motive:

President Trump’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, on Wednesday announced plans to eliminate net neutrality (technically, make it “voluntary”) despite its popularity, record of success and acceptance by most of the industry.

His proposal is of dubious legality. But should it succeed, the only real winners will be the cable and phone industries [the tube owners], which will gain yet another way to raise prices for everyone. The proposal is the epitome of senseless government action and sharply out of step with Mr. Trump’s populist mandate. Did Trump voters really vote for higher cable bills?

In addition:

The more convincing explanations for this change are more straightforward — and darker — than Mr. Pai’s. Much of Silicon Valley and Hollywood have supported both net neutrality and the Democratic Party, making an attack on the policy a kind of punishment. If Mr. Pai’s reasoning sounds forced and unconvincing, it is because this proposal comes right from the swamp, and can be attractive only to those who have lived there long enough to no longer notice the stench.

And the World Wide Web Foundation concludes:

Today Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai made clear he intends to dismantle strong net neutrality protections in the US.

If approved, his plan would reverse a 2015 FCC ruling to reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. The 2015 regulation was key for the roll-out of effective and enforceable net neutrality rules that would prevent ISPs from arbitrarily slowing down, or even blocking, internet traffic.

Our founder, Sir Tim Berners-Lee said:

“When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?”

Or throttles the small sites so the big sites get a smidgeon more speed?

Contacting the FCC

Here, in detail, is how to comment on the new FCC proposal, with the screen you will see:

Just like last time, you can comment on net neutrality using the FCC’s same old archaic and weird comments system, but this time it should have the back end to support a ton of traffic. This comment process will happen in two waves. Right now, you can comment on the draft proposal, which has lots of questions about how the final proposal should be worded. The second comment cycle will be about the official proposal, will begin after May 18 and will be open for three months. You should be able to comment on both. Here’s how to do it now:

  1. Head to the listing for the “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal (you can also search for Docket 17-108), which is perhaps the most ludicrously self-serving and false title we’ve seen in a while.
  2. Most of us can just click on “+ Express” on the left sidebar. This will send you to a simplified submission form. If you want to send more info, like attachments and images, use the “+New Filing” option.
  3. Fill out out the form and click on “Continue to review screen” when you’re finished. Review your comment, then send it off. You will need to include your name, home address, and phone number. All of that will be publicly accessible. That’s just part of the deal here.

It couldn’t hurt if you contacted your Congress critter as well. Letters to the Editor are also very effective, so do write one to your local newspaper. And if you have other suggestions, please leave them in comments!


Naked Capitalism is a small blog. It’s in our interest — and we like to think it’s in your interest too, dear readers, and in the public interest as well — to be just as accessible to the public on the Internet as a giant site like the Washington Post or the New York Times (or Facebook). If you agree, please support Naked Capitalism and all small blogs by vociferously supporting network neutrality in every venue available to you. Help Naked Capitalism stay unthrottled!


[1] Here let me note the disgraceful role of the NAACP, and other players in the Black Misleadership Class, in opposing net neutrality after collecting cash from ISPs. Ka-ching.

[2] Pai also gave a remarkable speech at the Newseum:

Pai said that his predecessor’s net neutrality rules were “all about politics,” in a speech at the Newseum in Washington on Wednesday.

“Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake,” Pai said. “It’s basic economics: The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

You know, like food. Or water. Or air. Shaking my head…

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Aumua

    There is a more fundamental battle which underlies net neutrality, and that is the commercialization of the Internet vs. the free and open flow of information that it is meant to be. The picture above says it all. This site is a great example of what the Internet can and should be, and it demonstrates one right way (not necessarily the only way) of going about it. There are no ads, because you’re not selling anything. You provide an excellent service that people are willing to support you for, but it’s all voluntary. Compare this to endless pages and pages of garbage whose only purpose is convince, cajole, or otherwise manipulate someone into clicking a link to a commercial site selling crap that no one needs or wants. The signal to noise ratio is abysmal, and net neutrality is something that helps to reign in the exploitation.

    Because the Internet is such a powerful tool, with immense potential for positive change, I believe the way this battle goes, and the fate what the Internet is to ultimately become is of great importance. Also, say what you want about Obama, he did end up supporting and helping this particular cause. What good it will do, remains to be seen I guess.

    1. Vatch

      Also, say what you want about Obama, he did end up supporting and helping this particular cause.

      I agree. Obama was a giant disappointment, but Trump is clearly worse. I’m still furious at the Democratic Party for giving us such a terrible choice in the recent Presidential election. As we all know, some people voted for Trump simply because Clinton was so very bad.

      As for Trump, he’s the one who chose Ajit Pai to be the chairman of the FCC, so Trump shares the blame for this fiasco.

      1. hal

        Obama also appointed Pai to the FCC Trump made him Chairman. This would not have stopped Trump from doing his dirty work but Obama (You know $400,000 per speech) set the wheels in motion.

        1. Vatch

          Right now, there are two vacancies on the FCC. No more than 3 members of the commission can belong to the same political party, and we currently have 2 Republicans and 1 Democrat. Trump withdrew Obama’s renomination of Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel. Prior to that, the Republican Senate sat on her renomination for more than a year (reminiscent of Merrick Garland).

          FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said, “We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind. We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online, and we do not need blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization schemes that undermine the Internet as we know it.”

    2. Marina Bart

      Also, say what you want about Obama, he did end up supporting and helping this particular cause.

      Especially since he has once again reared his head and is attempting to hypnotize American with his serpentine gaze, I think it’s really important we continually remember the reality of Barack Obama:

      – He was put in power to protect Wealth, FIRE and multi-national corporations.

      – His value to his masters relied and continues to rely on his mask of Goodness, which all his administration’s dirty deeds hid behind.

      – That was why the veal pen strategy was so important. Whenever anyone broke out of the pen long enough to pull on the mask until his real face was visible, he had to retreat. If he was ever fully exposed, the game was over — not so much for his masters, but for him. He and Michelle are young. For their turn at “foundation building,” obscene book deals, massive speaking fees, etc. to be maximally profitable, he had to exit the White House with his mask of Goodness in place.

      – In the late stages of his presidency, he was clearly anticipating that his successor would be the one left without a mask to wear, as public fury mounted at the after effects of what he had done. Hillary Clinton was perfect for this role: she’s used to be hated, she visibly enjoys hurting people, and she and her husband have already grifted hundreds of millions of dollars openly (I suspect there’s a lot more they control that’s hidden.)

      – Obama appointed Pai to the FCC.

      I don’t see why we should give Obama any credit at all for what happened in 2015. Major Democratic donors, like Google (aka Obama’s owners) were in favor of going common carrier, weren’t they? And that helped fuel the grassroots protests. His owners wanted common carrier, and citizens were pulling hard at his mask of Goodness. So he retreated, and got all sorts of praise for doing what was in the interests of major Democratic Party donors that Hillary was probably already hitting up for campaign donations.

      What am I missing?

        1. Marina Bart

          Sorry, Vatch. I don’t see how that disproves anything I said. He gave the Republicans their majority and ability to stymie nominations, too.

          1. Vatch

            If the Senate hadn’t blocked Obama’s renomination of Jessica Rosenworcel, there would currently be 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans on the FCC, and Ajit Pai wouldn’t have the votes that he needs to gut net neutrality.

            I don’t understand your what you mean by this:

            “He gave the Republicans their majority and ability to stymie nominations, too.”

            If you’re saying that he was an ineffective President, well yes, that’s true. But it’s the Republicans who are enthusiastic about killing net neutrality. In 2015, the net neutrality rule was passed by the FCC by a vote of 3-2 along party lines:


            Heck, if Tom Wheeler had chosen to remain on the FCC when Trump became President, even though he wouldn’t have been chairman any more, and the Republicans hadn’t blocked Rosenworcel, there would still be 3 Democrats and only 2 Republicans on the commission.

            On the topic of net neutrality, the Republicans are clearly worse than the Democrats.

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              > “He gave the Republicans their majority and ability to stymie nominations, too.”

              See under Pitchforks, Stand Between You And. See also Bankers, Great Financial Crash of 2008, Foreclosure Crisis, 2010 Midterms.

              1. Vatch

                Of course I know about that. I know that Obama betrayed his base, and that he was a willing servant of the billionaires. He could have done many good things when the Democrats controlled the Congress, and he chose not to. He was a bad President.

                But the Republicans are even worse. They voted against net neutrality even after millions of people protested, and they’re trying to gut it now, because they have a majority on the FCC. The just might do it, too, even though we know that millions will protest.

      1. Corbin Dallas

        I believe you’re missing that Trump is the president and his party of thieving thugs are running Congress as well. There is nothing a Trump supporter won’t derail but blamIng *present* problems on the past without also implicating his/her current president.

        As Vatch said – there seems to be a lot more of us on the left that realizes that Obama was bad, HRC was bad, and Tramp is substantially more awful. It would be nice to see some acknowledgement from Trump supporters…

  2. allan

    Pai said, “It’s basic economics: The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

    You would hope that an FCC chair could do better than spouting Econ 101 platitudes.
    Maybe the NC commentariat should chip in and buy Pai a copy of James Kwak’s Economism.

  3. Carolinian

    A couple of points: while the neutrality rule did win the first round of court challenge it could still be shot down in court.

    In June 2016, in an 184-page ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld, by a 2-1 vote, the FCC’s net neutrality rules and the FCC’s determination that broadband access is a public utility, rather than a luxury. AT&T and the telecom industry said that they would seek to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court

    And the issue isn’t quite as simple as it may seem since video companies like Netflix absorb a large percentage of total web bandwidth and perhaps should be discriminated against. In which case the question would be who will do the discriminating, business or government.

    This link has a handy graph.

    1. hunkerdown

      I’ve worked as a lead engineer at an ISP. Services are only weakly associated with routing. Downloaded Internet traffic is only weakly associated with backbone Internet traffic.

      I’m a/bemused that you’re citing statistics from a deep-packet-inspection gear manufacturer whose products are designed to construct and meter non-neutral networks and which (and who) have no reason to exist in a neutral network.

      > video companies like Netflix

      fail at network design by hosting all their videos in a centralized location, rather than collocating shipping containers with ports for 10Gb Ethernet and however many amps of power at the network edge, like, say, YouTube. With ISP consolidation being what it is, that’s maybe 1000 servers scattered across the US and however many overseas.

      Not that I’m foily, but I see this as complementary to the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, by which our “friends” at Google, Facebook and Twitter have announced information control initiatives (and whose stocks apparently jumped a bit on the news, as Mr. Haygood noted a few days ago).

      1. Carolinian

        No need for foilly. In fact as I say below I believe “our friends” at the ISPs and major corporations need greater scrutiny when it comes to how they are changing the web.

        But I do question whether big investments in infrastructure so Netflix can more conveniently deliver House of Cards are warranted. The poorer customers subsidize all those investments in fiber, cell towers, frequency purchases etc and that creates a different form of discrimination in terms of access and rent seeking, at least here in the US. Which is to say IMO the big providers need more regulation, not less. Just declaring “net neutrality” isn’t enough.

        Since you work in this field happy to hear a contrary view.

        1. hunkerdown

          Netflix hosts their entire service on the Amazon cloud, which is anything but free. I agree that Netflix benefits disproportionately from ISPs building direct pipes to Amazon as a prerequisite to reaching Netflix, as does no friend of ours Amazon and their cloud customers, as do to a lesser extent anyone else along the same route.

          I contest that subsidy is a useful frame to describe the apportionment of financing for a resource that can’t be stored and (as under net neutrality) can’t be reserved, in the same sense that building another common lane on a busy interstate constitutes a subsidy for UPS. According to the principles of a neutral network, the decision to discriminate against Netflix has the flip side of discriminating in favor of Amazon, who are the true culprits as far as network operations are concerned.

          I agree that network operators need to be regulated more; in fact, they need to be regulated into utilities much like sewerage, where one pays for the size of the outlet pipe to handle their effluent which indirectly pays for the facilities to process it according to volume, rather than discriminate according to how much soap is in the dish water or whatever. Of course, regulations in the USA are mostly orthogonal to enforcement actions, or Amazon would be paying for their customers’ effluent.

  4. Kurtismayfield

    And the issue isn’t quite as simple as it may seem since video companies like Netflix absorb a large percentage of total web bandwidth and perhaps should be discriminated against. In which case the question would be who will do the discriminating, business or government.

    Netflix pays for every byte it uses. The end user pays for every byte it uses. There is no reason why the company should be discriminated against. This is like arguing that Uber shouldn’t be allowed to use highways that it and the customer has already paid for because people like it too much and it is causing traffic in some bottlenecked areas.

    Now, the only reason that ISP’s really have to ban Netflix is because they directly compete against them in the content delivery business.

    This was in reply to Carolinian

    1. Carolinian

      Since most ISPs offer flat rate pricing then low bandwidth users who never watch Netflix or other video services are in fact subsidizing the transfomation of the web into de facto cable tv and the activities of those video lovers. This has become much more of an issue with cell tower internet where available bandwidth is more limited. If I’m not mistaken it’s the rise of smartphones and their consumption of video that has really brought this issue to the fore after so many years of net neutrality being less of an issue.

      To offer a more accurate analogy than your Uber example, electricity is priced according to the nature of the use and so there is in fact a form of “discrimination” in that regulated industry.

      The truth is that the common carrier designation is a bit of a copout and free speech access to the internet should be part of much more intrusive government regulation. But that of course assumes that we have governments that care about free speech.

      At any rate what I’m saying is that it’s a complicated issue and not just about ISP greed, no matter how greedy they may be.

      1. hunkerdown

        Carolinian, unrealistic analogy. Bandwidth unused is not “saved”. It is, in fact, wasted and lost forever. What, exactly, is the cost difference between a 0% utilized lit fiber and a 100% utilized lit fiber? Aside from a very minor increase in power consumption at either end of the link to handle the information, approximately nil. Shared network media are not comparable to packet-switched network media. A river is a better analogy: use it or lose it, but leave enough for others.

        We would be far better off if network providers would replace broadcast television “channels” entirely with network bandwidth and stop oversubscribing their internet links to wherever it is their users want to go. That means Netflix traffic gets just as degraded as everyone else when a particular link in the chain is overloaded, and boo hoo for their viewers.

        1. Carolinian

          In the neighborhood where I live ATT is in the process of replacing copper lines with fiber so they are in fact making the river bigger just as the power company has to build expensive dams or power plants in response to anticipated demand and that investment is then covered by rate payers. I’m not sure the analogy is wrong. The intent, it seems, is to turn the web into cable tv on demand and if that is where we are going then web becomes a big infrastructure, big investment proposition and commericalization a greater concern.

          I understand that a lot of this infrastructure is already in place and therefore why not use it, but my read is that much bigger plans are afoot and this may be why the net neutrality issue is now coming to a head. Admittedly this is not exactly what the above post is talking about but perhaps worth discussion.

          1. Yves Smith

            I have a friend who ran an ISP and separately built mission-critical trading platforms on Wall Street.

            He says there is no need to meter broadband.

            The architecture of last mile to the home, if you are using AT&T and not cable, is that your pipe is your own. Giving you fiber does NOT have to do with you needing the higher speed. I can run Netflix on copper.

            AT&T and others are trying to get rid of copper because it is more expensive to maintain. If you don’t insist (as in really really insist) that your copper connection not be messed with, they will sever it permanently at the time of a fiber optic install.

  5. Joe T.

    We’ve seen large orders of magnitude increases of bandwidth as technology developed from T1 to fiber optic wavelength division multiplexing. This occurred in a decade or two.

    But now we’re incentivizing internet providers to NOT progress, because if we all have fast enough speeds, they lose their cash cow of “premium” extra-cost service.

    Capitalism works well when the incentives are exactly right. They seem exactly wrong in this case.

    1. Barry

      I agree. In order to get someone to pay for faster service, you have to guarantee that someone else will get slower service.

  6. jo6pac

    I’m not sure what this is about but my butterfly net works real with my with my new tin-foil-hat.

  7. Ian

    Yves, I’m in favor of ending net neutrality bc I don’t believe advertising should be protected information. I should have the opportunity to opt out of advertising and pay my mobile network operator $10 more for an ad free internet. I want advertising blocked at the network level and willing to pay.

    1. Olga

      Not sure this comment makes a lot of sense to me, but… if you think that net neutrality is just about advertising, you may want to read up a bit about what the concept entails. Nothing like solid knowledge to cut through the Orwellian upside-down-speak.

    2. hunkerdown

      Sadly, the advertising industry, the ISP sector, and especially the millions of content authors are not willing to deal with you on the terms you desire, nor do they have to thanks to copyright law. May I suggest you visit The Atlantic with your ad blocker engaged for a sample of what content providers would be willing to deliver, at most, under such a regime?

      1. Katharine

        Please explain what you mean by that suggestion. I have no difficulty reading Atlantic articles with my script blocker engaged. What am I supposed to be missing?

        1. hunkerdown

          I reliably get a big grey wall on each visit asking me to drop shields or subscribe, until I edit the document and remove it. You might have a different or more comprehensive ad blocker or rule set than I do. Or, you’re a subscriber. In any case, website authors and especially video services have the sole prerogative of whether and what data or countermeasures get served in a response.

    3. Yves Smith

      You want this site to die because you are too selfish to pay for content. You come here, pretend to be interested in social justice, and want us and other writers to work for you for free? Go to hell.

      1. skippy

        I think the issue is wrt not having to mentally contend with the epic levels of Bernays sauce attacking ones optics, your business venture aside.

        disheveled…. hay how about that algo FB is using to screw with vulnerable kids thingy… seems the CEO almost popped a cool 200M for the effort…. up lift is assured.

  8. jfleni

    Good luck with filing comments … ad infinitum. Pai was a grovelling, slimy lawyer for Verizon until recently; so lotsa luck.

    The only way to hit them where they live, is to make them hurt, just like the low power FM station dispute some years ago. When thousands of low-power stations put themselves on the air (mostly without permission) , the plutocrats and FCC both found themselves SOL, and made the rules much easier.

    There are thousands of unused, empty UHF channels; although there are some easy rules for their use, starting a internet/TV flood would be simple, and very productive for many new enterprises and local interests.

    Stand by for the plutocrat screams!

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > There are thousands of unused, empty UHF channels

      That’s a very interesting idea. I know nothing of UHF. Would those channels work for data, as well as TV?

      After all, if I think of accessing the Internet back in the days of my 2400 baud modem, I did fine, at least for text. And what’s wrong with that?

  9. mle detroit

    The new rules, approved 3 to 2 along party lines, are intended to ensure that no content is blocked and that the Internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for Internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else. Those prohibitions are hallmarks of the net neutrality concept….Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner, said the rules were government meddling in a vibrant, competitive market and were likely to deter investment, undermine innovation and ultimately harm consumers.

    Why is Pai being allowed to frame this is an issue for “consumers” rather than “citizens”? Our younger citizens get most of their civic information via the internet.

  10. Kalen

    Thank you. Another great and timely subject but again put in a little too narrow perspective, I think too narrow to appropriately assess true interests and choices internet users should face in this debate. Also liberally applied quotes from Senator Ted Stevens, Google or Art Technica and similar truly corporate lobbyist interests as well as open endorsement of NN by NC editors really question the very NEUTRALITY of this article itself. I hope my contrarian voice will be allowed to be heard in this vital debate on NC.

    Again, in my opinion, the conversation about net neutrality seems to have been purposefully obfuscated and confused. It is really sad but not unexpected, that many relatively small sites push an idea that they are being threatened by what they call themselves Net Neutrality rejection by the current administration which I myself oppose.

    Before engaging in any meaningful debate, first, let’s address what Net Neutrality (NN) really is theoretically, devoid of vague characterizations that mean different things to different people, namely a rule that all the sources of IP packets regardless of their range, type or protocols, (TCP/IP … or higher level: http(s), DAV, ftp, … VoIP, video, encryption, general file transfer or streaming etc.,) must be treated equally and processed with no other algorithmic manipulation than the congestion handling technical measures.

    In fact it is often simplistically interpreted, by NN advocates as it means no preferential treatment of big websites over smaller websites regardless what they stream and what intermittent traffic fluctuations they may attract i.e. no content, type nor volume arbitrary limitation.

    But this is only one possible interpretation of NN, one of many that actually do not require “protection” of small website from being able to access their traffic and hence mostly used by giants of Internet like Google, FB as a cover for what they really meant and still what NN means for them in a category of business profit and growth, not necessarily a stand for principles they are happy to break elsewhere when money is good.

    The fact is that during last few years under legal NN massive preferences for giants of Internet were achieved by technical means via countless $billions of spending by Google, FB, NETFLIX etc.,. Most of them built their own access to Internet backbone or invested in it to get priority access while the rest of us going already through highly congested, in many cases purposefully congested by artificially limiting capacities/throughoutput in/out of Internet Backbone accessing routers to only half of their capacity or refusing to upgrade them to new faster models as such a practice has been disclosed few years ago.

    All those “in effect”, discriminative measures freely, openly implemented while no NN laws have been violated!!!

    Do we really care about such a law that truly does nothing practical to level plain field for small Internet players?

    But in a Orwellian style many advocates of NN want us to look away and not just anywhere, not particularly where there are many more issues of critical concern to public but at the specific place namely at Last Mile Internet usurpers corporate behemoths of ATT, Verizon etc .,.

    I have no love lost for these corporate oligopolies and I agree that they are a real threat to the Internet since they have tyrannical power to cut of Internet audience from their trusted websites (if they still exist).

    However, my problem is that they are already doing it, petrifying people with their monopolistic price gouging.

    What people should be outraged about is not only about unimpeded access to the Internet but the outrageous monopolistic prices extorted from vulnerable population where most of services and a lot of trade has been pushed into embedding them in everyday life.

    Why people in the US do not complain when a peasant in a God forsaken mountain village in France or South Korea can get at least 1 Gigabit/s speed internet for about $10 bucks a month if he is illegible for government subsidy. If he is the cost often drops to zero.

    Is this our real fight, as users, for Internet access worth fighting for?

    A theoretical so-called euphemistically “free-unimpeded NN” access is worth nothing if its costs are criminal, unaffordable and/or prohibiting.

    Or is this just a liberal astroturf phony righteous indignation of those who, as they often do, confuse peoples’ rights with paid access privileges for those who can afford to be free?

    The core of the issue of NN access is affordability achieved by turning Internet into a simple price controlled utility as in many other countries they practically did under many different schemes. For Internat users in digital age Internet access affordability is a basic right and warrants government subsidies, as current laws provide, but paid from taxes on profits of the monopolists not users.

    If we cap internet price to say flat $10 a month, all those greedy corporates will quit the market, opening the field to massive city and state government investments to step in as they are now blocked by Wall Street oligarchs from doing so.

    Ultimately, Is it not a better fight to fight for one conglomerated utility (electric, gas, oil coal, etc., internet/phone/data/mobile) package say, $10 per family and corporate usurpers.

    Unfortunately, what some so-called advocates want us really to stand for and fight for are propagandists Netflix, Goggle, YT, Tweeter, FB and more silicon Valley billionaires avoiding paying to other corporates.

    This is not really our fight unless NN affordable Internet is discussed as well.

    The whole NN issue stems from utter refusal by the Wall Street in invest in telecom infrastructure in the US in last decade trying to protect and expand their profit by using old criminal monopolistic practices to strangle population access to information that threatens to expose corporate and government criminally of Internet players among others.

    One may argue that some of the Internet infrastructure access regression is a part of long policies of the US regime to de-industrialize America, collapse entire US infrastructure and to push Americans into a civilization digital Dark Age in every social dimension.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      My hot take: The Internet should remain a common carrier — the topic of the article — and we should put ginormous WiFi antenna on top of every Post Office so every American has free Internet, instead of dorking around at the municipal level. (I can see that “ginormous WiFi antenna” might be an overly simplistic technical approach, but you see what I mean).

  11. Tim McClure

    The flaw in net neutrality is that you assume bandwidth is finite, when it is not. Technological advances occur constantly. It wasn’t that long ago when we were limited to dial up speeds. Market demand brought us high speed access, not Washington. There is nothing to suggest we’ve reached any limit.

    Not to mention the folks in Washington DC are subject to the same prejudices as those greedy tube owners. At least the tube owners are accountable. Some unknown bureaucrat in Washington DC is not.

    1. Kurtismayfield

      The problem as you mentioned is not the bandwidth, it’s that the ISP’s are also content providers. There is actual competition in the content arena, and the ISP’s don’t like that. The cord cutters are cutting into their bottom line, and the ISP’s are going to get their pound of flesh. If they are allowed to differentiate between sources of data then they will kill competition for content.

      Common carrier status, or net neutrality, is necessary for the survival of any other content provider besides the ISP’s.

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