In the debate over net neutrality, make some noise
As the battle over net neutrality heats up, columnist James Green chips away at some misconceptions about the regulations to help you understand what's at stake for advertisers.
There’s a pro-net neutrality protest scheduled for July 12, and in advance of that and before our fearless leaders on Capitol Hill decide whether or not to overturn the current laws protecting net neutrality, I’d like to provide a balanced view on the subject.
The net neutrality war has been politicized as Republican vs. Democrats, Big Corporate vs. the Innocent Civilian — a war between good and evil — but really, it’s a disagreement between two camps: a small group of internet service providers (ISPs) and a much larger group of companies and individuals who use the pipes that these ISPs have built.
If you’re a red-blooded, freedom-lovin’, capitalist American like me (and if you’re reading this article, then we probably also work in marketing and advertising together), you probably veer towards deregulation and think of it as synonymous with freedom. You’d like to make sure your freedom and privacy are sacrosanct (though you may be a little soft on privacy, as it’s nice to know who sees your ads), and you’d like to be left alone to do your work in peace. With that in mind, what does net neutrality mean to you?
The ISPs’ main complaint is that they’ve spent billions of dollars building a proprietary network and now the government is stopping them from being able to earn as much money as they would like to from it. If they had their way, they’d not only charge consumers who use the internet on a monthly basis, they would also charge the people who send content to those consumers.
If those companies don’t pay enough, they want the right to slow down their service a bit to encourage them to pay more. And why not? It’s their network — they built it fair and square (though some of them did get quite a bit of public funding). So why shouldn’t they be allowed to make as much money as they can? Aren’t you a capitalist, too?!
The tech companies, and this includes everyone from Google and Facebook to Magnetic (my employer) to Joe and Jane’s blog, don’t want to pay a toll to the ISPs. They argue that if you let the ISPs have the keys to the internet, there will be fewer startups, less innovation, your bill will go up, and your connection speeds for at least some services will go away — or heaven forbid, some apps will be blocked entirely. But to avoid that, you have to accept the unholy: government intervention.
Both of these arguments are entirely correct. So with that, you should be able to make your own decision about what’s right and what’s wrong. However, the hucksters out there are still trying to confuse us, so to help you understand what’s real and what’s not, here are some of the many untruths that are being bandied about right now.
1. It won’t threaten your internet freedom
When you hear politicians tell you that your internet choice and freedom will not diminish if net neutrality goes away, they are lying. You may have experienced this firsthand if you were a certain AT&T customer in 2012 trying to use FaceTime on your iPhone. In that case, subscribers on older unlimited data plans were blocked from using the popular FaceTime app for fear of over-usage bogging down the system.
2. There’s no need to regulate ISPs
When a government official gets all technical with you and says you don’t need to regulate ISPs like telephone companies (it’s called Title II) because the Federal Communications Commission already has rules on its books to enforce action (it’s called Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996), they are lying.
Before Title II was used against the ISPs, the FCC tried to enforce its rules against Comcast in the BitTorrent case. The US Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC has no powers to regulate any internet provider’s network, or the management of its practices: “[the FCC] ‘has failed to tie its assertion’ of regulatory authority to an actual law enacted by Congress …”
3. Without regulations, speeds will increase
When an ISP says that they will invest more or that connection speeds will go up if regulations go away, they are lying. Practically the whole world lives with the same net neutrality regulations as we have now, and 13 of those countries have better and faster internet connections than the United States.
What will change is the ISPs’ profitability; it will go up. That’s also good, but it’s not the claim they are making. (These companies are quite profitable already.) And for good measure, they’ve all admitted in their public investor filings (S-1s, if you’re a public market investors) that these laws have not had an effect on their investment spending.
4. You have a choice of ISPs, so the regulations don’t apply
This is one you can judge for yourself. Most people have three categories of companies that can provide them internet (confusingly, many brands play in multiple spaces): (a) telephone company (AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink); (b) mobile phone carrier (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular); and (c) cable company (Comcast, Cox, AT&T/U-verse, Charter, Dish, Verizon/Fios).
Most of us don’t sign up with the telcos (DSL) because it’s too slow. Most of us do have a mobile phone, but I don’t know many people who have “cut the cord” and try to watch all their streaming TV, Netflix and so on via their phones, because it’s either super-expensive or super-slow. That leaves your cable company, which most of us only have one of.
When consumers only have one choice, that’s called a monopoly, or in this case, an oligopoly, because the market is shared by a small number of producers or sellers, and most individuals can usually only sign up to one. Sure, some lucky few get an option of FIOS or U-verse, as well as the local cable company, but coverage for FIOS (which is bigger than AT&T’s offering) only hits 12 percent of the population, and only in the most densely populated part of the country — and even that was because the government subsidized it!
It’s been proven unequivocally that services are sub-par and prices are high in a monopoly or oligopoly. Because if you can work less hard and make more money, why would you not do that? Ever heard of a cable company having five-star customer service? Didn’t think so.
For me, this is an easy decision. Many more people win when the ISPs are regulated than when they are not. And there’s much less risk that the ISPs (who tend to own content and TV stations) will mess around with my advertising business if there’s regulation.
So to quote one of my favorite TV characters who is known for being rather unemotional and clinical, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Too bad the captain of our country doesn’t have a science officer like Spock to help him with some of these decisions. If you think this behavior is unfair to freedom-loving Americans like me, then do us all a favor and make some noise!