Let's talk net neutrality

What do you think the results of the latest push to abolish net neutrality in the US will be? How can we have the biggest impact on the outcome? What's different this time? What are the long-term stances we can take?

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If I'm 100% honest, the big difference here is the amount of attention on it. It's during the holiday rush season, the Trump administration has an endless outpouring of distracting nonsense and scandals, Patai isn't a well-known enough figure stir up enough mainstream anger and discontent, and we don't even have John Oliver making a viral video riling people up and directing their anger towards public comments where they need to be.

People won't be looking at this issue when it comes up to a vote, and there's enough votes to likely get rid of it. So my cynical side seems to be winning out when I think about how this will go.

Yeah, that's the worry. It's getting very little mainstream attention. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to mentally bundle in with a lot of other policy choices currently designed to funnel power to the powerful. So on that note, it's probably easier to drum up general-purpose opposition I'd suppose.

What little mainstream attention I do see has been severe misunderstanding on what net neutrality is. I've seen people incorrectly arguing that net neutrality = making it a utility = enforcing a monopoly. I've seen people argue that repealing it allows for competition, when instead it'd allow ISPs to exercise power to destroy our greatest free market.

Worst case estimations is also causing opponents. Sure, its perfectly viable that ISPs will switch to a cable inspired tiering package. But they don't have to. They could go back to their old fastlane bs or go back to throttling competitors (hey netflix). We have people out there saying "it was fine before net neutrality you're all overreacting" because everyone else is hung up on the worst case scenario.

Quite an unfortunate scenario we're in.

Well I believe that the time for sending comments directly to the FCC has past. The head of the FCC gives zero (enter extreme expletive here) about any of us. So we're already at a disadvantage. Nicely asking the bad guy to consider anyone other than himself for even a microsecond doesn't seem super effective.

We have to go above Ajit Pai and the FCC, to Congress. As far as I know, they're the only ones who can save us now. So, if you want to beat these dirtbags who are aiming to screw everyone over. Tweet, email, and call your senators and your state representatives. Pester them to no end. Remind them (politely) that they work for you and to protect your rights. You have a right to a free and neutral internet. If your state's Congressmen/women don't already support Net Neutrality, suggest that they visit battleforthenet.com/ and talk to their colleagues who will be able to clue them in.

What do I hope the fallout will be?
People realize that Congress has been punting its lawmaking responsibilities to the President for the past 50 years, reducing their own power (by extension, their constituents' power). Then, they realize their own state legislature has the power to pass laws. Upon realizing these things, they push their state lawmakers to pass a state law requiring any and all internet traffic be delivered, unrestricted, to every customer. Additionally, they'll push the same state legislature to remove laws and regulations that restrict cities from establishing their own ISPs. Cities and townships that subsidize fiber installation will mandate that any subsidies must allow for low, fixed costs to city-operated ISP use and Internet service begins its movement towards becoming a locally-controlled utility that can be influenced, operated, and directed by residents of the community.

What do I think will happen?
Public outcry will force FCC to water down their regulations, but not completely abandon Title II Net Neutrality for ISPs. Too many will call it a victory, while enforcement continues to be sparse. Internet access will remain walled behind corporate structures that are encouraged by regulatory protections to engage in rent-seeking, instead of community-serving, behaviors.

How can we have the biggest impact on the outcome?
Pull the decision-making power out of the FCC and closer to the user/voter. Empower state-level Inspectors General and Justice Departments to enforce those laws and staff them to a level they can receive and investigate claims. Additionally, aid in the technological progress at the state and local level. Offer to consult on tech contract negotiations, assist in tech reviews to clean up system overlap, submit suggestions to the city/state for user-facing systems, go to school board meetings to give a technically-skilled opinion (run for a school board or city council position, even!). Realize that you can have a lot of impact by helping to streamline the systems that serve your friends and neighbors every day. Just because it's not a flashy "industry disruption" doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

What's different this time?
Enough people are coming to realize that regulation sounds comforting, but is less receptive to voter feedback than an elected lawmaker.

What are the long-term stances we can take?
Demand that legislators take their responsibilities seriously by writing clear and specific laws instead of delegating to the executive branch and/or federal level. Attempt to build specific laws/regulations at the lowest level (city, county, state, then federal), making them more robust against future changes. Learn how your city/county/state reps takes input and write up specific suggestions for them, instead of waiting for the bills to be on the floor.

Ben Halpern DEV.TO FOUNDER

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An open internet is the only kind of internet that this nation, or any nation for that matter, is entitled to.

No corporate lobbyists trying to throttle or restrict our goods and services, no government censorship. The internet is a tool that is used by damn near every human on the face of the planet. The net needs to remain neutral, or it will become discriminatory to enterprise and the people who use it.

What can we as developers do to help keep the net neutral?

But by becoming "neutral" it no longer is, because there is someone policing this neutrality. That "someone", the government, is not to be trusted.

net neutrality doesn't mean 0 on a scale, it means that there can be no special treatment of any pipe. Its a hands off policy, not a moderate stance.

I don't know if I arrive in late, but I'd love to contribute to this discuss. It's true I'm not an American citizen, therefore my sight of the issue in the US context might be blurry from the outside.

I'm very concerned with this. Not so long ago I would trust the voters to clearly say "no" about such a proposal. But right now I'm very likely to feel distrustful, even if I'm certain some FCC members are against this craziness. My hopes are on the "No" but I fear the "Yes".

I think net neutrality it's invisible for those users who actually use the internet for a couple of simple things such as facebook and mail (which are a wide range of the internet users) or if not, either way, net neutrality breakdown seems like a fair internet system in the economy model of the US (and mostly the rest of the world) so thinking the net could perfectly work without it is a -dangerous but plausible- output.

If this happens, the rest of the users who stood in the internet neutrality side, will need to change their digital routine to the ones that are used in countries like China by concerned users or international press. I'm used to throw speeches about internet censorship and privacy awareness in my country, and one thing that sometimes happened to me is being asked "why care" about such things like "privacy" if we are "legit" or "censorship" if their favorite social network is still available (which is not always the case, by the way). I think the most horrific output that we might witness is the users apathy on the issue.

From the outside of the US, I just hope this doesn't happen. US have a huge impact in the rest of the world and the net neutrality breakdown there could be the wick for the rest of the countries in Europe, apart from the fact that (even if it's not the case for the rest of us) millions of users will be affected by it. And frankly, once it's done, I think that is tremendously difficult to go back to a neutral system.

I think my words are very negative, but I hope net neutrality stands in your country.

I'm ambivalent about the death of net neutrality. Collectively we have treated the net like a public toilet and maybe we will be better stewards of the net once it has an actual cost.

The other upside is that p2p networks can have a real chance now and we can start moving towards a more decentralized architecture. Maybe now people will start really thinking about how and where to host and access their data instead of throwing it into apple and Google cloud buckets and hoping for the best.

I hope the future is more Beaker Browser and less what we have now and maybe the death of net neutrality will kickstart that process.

Relevant comic

There is absolutely no upside to the end of Net Neutrality. Everyone will suffer. ISPs have everything to gain. Activist groups, politicians, charity events, developer conferences, and everyone else will be charged an in ordinate amount of money for their presence on line. Think of your favorite streaming service--even your favorite developer communities, e.g. dev.to--will crawl to a halt unless the owners of said site pay the ISPs. When corporations and businesses--who's sole purpose is to make money--have to front the artificially inflated fees from the ISPs, guess whom is going be paying those fees in the end. US. Even you.

The mindset that you've displayed in this comment is exactly what they want.

I and the rest of the developer community, who depend on the internet for our jobs, will do our best to ensure that our rights remain intact. That includes yours.

I truly hope that you change your mind. We need your help.

battleforthenet.com/

I'm skeptical of all the worst case scenarios. No one is capable of anything other than hyperbole on this issue. It's beyond ridiculous.

I agree. There is much emotion involved in the debate but very little logic because such a large public, private, regulatory apparatus is extremely hard to reason about.

And it's not like the current net is a paragon of neutrality. We already live in walled gardens controlled by the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Those walled gardens shaped election results and yet they have just gotten slaps on their wrists.

Decentralization is the answer. I'd rather get there than continue working within the current centralized structures.

Everyone acts like this one thing will be the end of the internet as we know it. Elections happen every four years people. Calm down.

You make me wonder if you're working for a large ISP 😂. In any case I'd say it's a bit rude to tell 'everyone' (whoever they all might be) to calm down and that their points are 'beyond ridiculous'. Maybe there are a lot of worst case scenarios thrown around, but can I ask you where you see the harm in that? Wouldn't you think it be worse not to imagine anything at all and just let whatever happen?

What would you suggest we do? Just ignore the whole issue / discussion and go on, because it can't be that bad?

So, the only positions you'll allow in this discussion are 'absolutely Armageddon' and 'ISP employee colluding to end the discussion'? A bit rude, indeed.

Discussions of policy should be driven by those capable of setting hyperbole and dismissal aside to have calm discussions of the facts involved. That's how we arrive at acceptable policy that doesn't involve burning everything to the ground or accepting authoritarian diktat.

Not "allow". When hyperbole is the only tactic used, it gets exhausting after awhile. No wonder so many people in the US are apathetic.

Your emotional take is unconvincing. The internet as it is now is nothing to fight for. In a more decentralized network we would not need to worry about neutrality.

As long as the network is centralized you will continue to fight this battle like Sisyphus. The network operators will continue to fight to extract more value out of the pipes as long as they have a monopoly.

That's quite the nihilistic approach you've got there! I'm wondering though, what would you suggest that we, collectively, do? Should we just stop caring about the current infrastructure and build something new, learning from our past mistakes? Would something like that be even feasible? And do you see any possible way to avoid the pitfalls we're facing today?

It's not nihilism. I'm old enough now to understand that unless people care nothing will change and most people are disorganized and apathetic.

If you want to make a difference then get involved with decentralization efforts and consider getting involved in local community efforts to create municipal ISPs. Saving the existing structure in the long run is worse for everyone involved. China has shown how existing infrastructure can be subverted and Google and friends have shown how to create walled gardens. There is no way out of the current quandary that benefits the majority.

You are saying you can make your own cross atlantic wires to play a game with your friends? 🙄

P2p is dark ages, everything that was crowd sources, funded, powered by will not exists without those buckets.

Just read about Portugal ISP and see what can happen to you.

I have seen the articles about Portugal and I've seen how centralized networks can be subverted in places like China.

If we don't learn from those lessons and work towards a more robust network infrastructure then I will not mourn any losses. We collectively got here by not being good stewards.

I also didn't say anything about doing things all by myself and I think that kind of attitude is why we are where we are today.

I'm more or less neutral on net neutrality. The worst-case scenarios on changing the 2-year-old policies vary from less-than-believable to outright ridiculous, IMO. As a person who pays for things, I'd like for things to be a cheap as possible. As someone who tends to like the things I pay for to stick around, I don't want the prices to be artificially low.

Let's take Netflix as a working example. They built an empire with charging their subscribers to pay their royalties, taking no responsibility for the resultant flooded residential networks that can still become nigh-unusable during peak viewing times (source: my observation with multiple ISPs). This is a simple supply/demand issue; at $7.95/$8.95 a month, the demand outstrips the distribution pipeline.

That's not to say that this is completely bad; this crunch has caused them to innovate both in delivery and with server-side technologies to carry this load. Without the ISPs, though, Netflix is still shipping you discs ridiculously quickly instead. Why should their perfectly adequate networks be required by law to be upgraded because some upstart came along and saturated them?

Of course, they could just raise the prices to pay for this network expansion. Now the consumer is paying for the Netflix royalties and the network upgrades! (even the poor elderly couple who just use their connection to see pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook...)

None of the net neutrality advocates even seem to acknowledge any of the above. They also have little to no faith (or less) in the market to establish rates that are acceptable to consumers and producers. Oh, but you say, the "free market" doesn't exist when there's a monopoly! But that brings us to the other aspect I'd like to highlight...

Net neutrality can actually cause the monopoly it decries. How so? Well, if a company is prohibited from setting up a special-use Internet-connected network, this hurts any sort of start-up ISP who would like to challenge the established players in the industry. It's also a unique burden to people who try to serve rural and under-represented areas in our country. Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte of Security NOW! did an interview with a man (Brett Glass) who rus an ISP in Wyoming with majority rural customers. Their discussion as at the top of the transcript for episode 457, and is very interesting.

I opened this by saying I was neutral; I detailed the non-net-neutrality arguments above because the pro-net-neutrality arguments are overrepresented in the tech industry. They have a financial stake, to be sure, but "beneficial to my job" is often different than "fair". ISPs have also demonstrated their fair share of scummy behavior, trying to sell their subscribers as their service rather than their customers; distrust of them is a natural reaction.

Anyway, that's why I'm neutral. Every policy picks winners and losers, even if they're named to seem "fair" or "free". Not having it be subject to the whim of the FCC chairman would go a long way toward bringing stability, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.

Re: Netflix causes saturation of local internet providers.

I don't understand your point that Netflix is at fault here. The internet provider and the internet subscriber have an agreement on the amount of bandwidth provided by the service. The user then chooses to use some of that bandwidth for Netflix or YouTube. Users can't violate their bandwidth limit at most every ISP I've had. So I don't understand how it's unfair to ISPs when subscribers use what they paid for. I understand how it's inconvenient to ISPs because they oversubscribed their available bandwidth. But they chose to take that business risk to increase profits. It just so happened that consumers took a liking to video services and the risk didn't pay off at times. I also understand that video services cause increased load at specific points in the network. Having worked for an ISP as my first job after college, tuning bandwidths in different parts of the network or rerouting traffic based on demand is a routine part of doing business. That has nothing to do with legislation or FCC rule changes or video services being unfair.

As far as net neutrality side being over-represented. It has already happened that ISPs have extorted video services for money by disrupting service or throttling (in particular, look at the graph from July 2013 thru Dec 2014 during which time Netflix paid off various ISPs). So it seems to me like the level of tinfoil-hattery is about right based on history.

And to me the even more scary part has already been passed. That is the privacy protections against ISPs being repealed last April. It has already happened that ISPs have used subscriber data illegally. The policy change last April made it allowable now, but the fact that they were willing to cross that line does not inspire confidence that they will be reasonable with even less privacy restrictions.

This is why I am a big fan of companies like Ting, who are simply trying to provide the best service for their customers. Not squeeze every nickle possible out of them. They are both an ISP and MVNO cell provider, and they have openly stated that they do not and will not sell customer data or analyze browsing history, and have generally advocated for privacy and net neutrality. Too bad their ISP isn't available in my area.

I said I was neutral, and I pretty much said that ISPs had done their fair share of less-than-desirable behavior.

Video streaming was a relatively newly-mainstream technology when Netflix began streaming. The networks, up to that point, had the capacity they needed for the traffic they had, plus a little extra. That wasn't even a drop in the bucket compared to what they needed to support that (and YouTube). Should a change by one company drive a mandatory, force-of-law upgrade on another, with no remuneration for the latter company? I say "no" to that. I also say "no" to government taking tax dollars and giving them to the latter company to pay for those mandatory upgrades. So, who pays - the consumer of the service, or the service responsible for the bottleneck?

I do think some regulation is necessary; you need that in any monopoly/non-competitive scenario to prevent unfair practices. I just don't see the net falling over if the current proposal takes effect as planned.

I'll second your fandom of Ting; I've had my phone service with them for years. :) Do you think their stance on Internet service gives them a market advantage if the current proposal is enacted?

A discussion of who pays isn't really relevant today. The rise of video streaming services has already happened, upgrades have already happened. Maybe it would be interesting historical analysis to know "Who did pay at the time?" And compare that to the general laws of supply and demand: As demand increases and supply remains constant, the price to consumers goes up. I believe the case can be made that Netflix and perhaps other video services did already pay for those upgrades. So supply and demand didn't apply to bandwidth, and it would be interesting to examine why.

The net won't fall over, and for most it won't even be any different. It's just another erosion factor. Another setup for companies to be anti-competitive. Example: Verizon (who already has been shady) launched their own video-on-demand service. If these changes happen, what are the chances that they throttle other video services but send their own down the pipe full blast? Nearly 100%. And if particularly egregious in their throttling, they might be sued for it too. But they will still do it because the short term benefit is too tempting for your typical executive to pass up.

Ting is awesome. They have great promise in the ISP segment, but are beholden to the pace at which municipalities can get things done. AFAIK, they require the municipality to own their local fiber and then they will manage the internet service over it, including customer service. I do hope it becomes more common. But I also hope that municipal governments don't try to manage their own internet. One of the many things that governments are hopelessly inefficient at (and have no incentive to do well) is customer service.

Ting's mobile service is much more generally applicable, and of course it provides mobile internet as well (over common mobile carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint). I think their net neutrality / privacy stances will encourage some people to switch to them. But I don't think they do it for that reason. I really think they are just trying to do the right thing for customers.

I feel like Net Neutrality is a symptom of a bigger issue at play. The big issue is that in the U.S, the E.U. and probably loads of other parts of the world, corporations have such an insidious influence on policy making that we often can't trust the decisions to be made on these topics to serve the people that elected much of these policy makers.

More people will learn the techniques for hiding contents of data traffic and making interpretation of metadata hard.

It will be similar to the effects of authoritarianism. Those who get the privileges will stare baffled at you and ask why you're upset and the rest will have to lay low until they get their cartels and networks in order and mobilise some resistance. If they don't they get punished in nasty and sophisticated ways. See for example how certain muslim groups in western China are treated. This is what will come here sooner than anyone today expects, and implementations will be even more insidious and horrid than any practical ones in use today.

But it will also take some time. It won't happen overnight.

First we'll see some global corporations twist out more profits from their USA markets by segmenting them further and playing out things like status or race markers in their commercial communication and advertisements to a bigger extent than before.

Further down the line these changes affect culture and society and the originally commercial decisions turn into bigotry, stratification and hierarchies. Politicians will use racial slurs based on who can pay for what Internet services and how they have been marketed with markers of class, status, sex, race. Bigots will invent new ways to do it based on how they feel about being in the same market segments and feel left behind by the marketers.

It is about allowing companies having different prices for services aimed at different people, where the poor will be fed the impression that they pay very little and get very cheap bestest awesome deals yeah, even though they get sucky services for the same price or more as they used to pay. On a structural level it is a massive value transaction from the less fortunate to the very fortunate, as it is sometimes put. In reality we're all less fortunate and stuck on a tiny, inhospitable rock hurling through deadly emptiness that we've somehow managed to make even more inhospitable in just a few centuries.

Many politicians will use the issue to get elected or reelected, mainly by creating the illusion that this is an isolated issue and has more to do with quality of technical services than social stratification and justice, proponents of net neutrality and antagonists alike. It is more a question of what illusions are feasible among the voters they aim for than material factors.

So the response will be to develop secrecy, networking and resistance, slowly, cautiously. Because that's what mammals do when evolutionary pressure and material hostilities tighten up, with mice-like creatures being the early examples around the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Killing net neutrality will be like killing freedom. Let's not go back to those dark ages. 🙌

The thing about the bill is that it’s headlined as “Restoring internet freedom” which is just... wrong. It’s freedom for the ISPs to take our freedoms away from us.

I think a HUGE difference this time around is that there are a lot of people in Congress who are simply “anti Obama,” and see net neutrality as an “obama” thing.

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Ben Halpern
A Canadian living in New York, having a lot of fun cultivating this community! Creator and webmaster of dev.to.
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