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[personal profile] swan_tower

I posted a little while ago about today, July 12th, being the “Battle for the Net.” The short version is that the FCC is trying to roll back the “net neutrality” protections we currently enjoy, which would have the effect of letting corporations control how you interact with the internet. Think of your cable company: you know how they charge you more money for “premium channels”? You might find yourself paying your internet provider extra fees to access “premium sites.” (Not paying the sites; paying Comcast. Or whoever provides your internet connection.) Sites they don’t have a financial stake in might load more slowly. Streaming sites could be throttled to the point where you can’t watch a video or listen to music or play an online game without constant hiccups.

All of those things are bad. But here’s what’s worse.

Think about the flood of online political activity we’ve had in the last year. All those petitions, all those videos, all those political blogs. Right now, the only thing controlling your access to them is your level of interest and will to engage. But if we let the FCC empower internet providers to become the internet’s gatekeepers, then it may get a hell of a lot harder for us to make our voices heard. A lot of the groups speaking out right now are precisely the ones being disadvantaged by the current administration’s policies; they’re the ones who can’t afford to pay prioritization fees to keep their sites from being buried. This would be another way to screw them over, to make sure the voices we hear first, last, and loudest are the ones with money behind them: a negative feedback loop that ensures that power stays in the hands of those who already have it.

We can’t let this happen. Call your senators. Call your representative. Write a letter to the FCC. Speak up now, while you still can. As tools for speech go, the internet is up there with the printing press and the invention of writing itself — and our democracy depends on freedom of speech. We have to protect it.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Date: 2017-07-12 10:34 pm (UTC)
brooksmoses: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brooksmoses
FWIW, one can directly write a letter here: https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/search/proceedings?q=name:((17-108)), click the "+Express" link at the right.

This article has comments on writing an effective letter: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/07/saving-net-neutrality-tips-for-writing-persuasive-comments-to-the-fcc/

Here's what I wrote; feel free to copy and paste whatever you want:
Firstly, a neutral and open internet is of critical importance to my life, and I strongly support the current net neutrality protections.

In my work and personal life, I rely on a large number of niche websites for information about programming languages and techniques. Many of these are either websites hosted specifically for the purpose of supporting a specific language or project (e.g., llvm.org) or individual blogs hosted by the author.

In addition, for my hobbies and online shopping, I rely on a large number of niche websites for independent stores and cottage manufacturers. These are small businesses that are providing American jobs for entrepreneurs and their employees, often on very small margins, and they could be very easily squeezed out if a loss of net neutrality makes it more difficult or expensive for people to access their sites.

And, as an former engineering researcher at Stanford, I have a small website that distributes the papers I have written about my research -- including my Ph.D. dissertation, which is not otherwise published. This is something that I am able to provide because it is inexpensive to do so; a loss of net neutrality would very likely make it cost-prohibitive to continue doing so.

Secondly, I believe that internet access is a very clear example of a "telecommunication" under the legal definition of "transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user's choosing, without change in the form or content of the information...." While I may not be specifying the location of the caching servers that provide the particular online information that I am requesting, I am clearly specifying the content that I wish to access and the provider of that content. This is little different from how, when I dial a mobile phone number, I am not specifying the phone that the user happens to have connected to that number or the cell tower that they are near. The caching server, much like the cell tower, is only an intermediary.

Further, Chairman Pai's argument that I do not specify the IP address is erroneous even if it were relevant, which it is not. While I personally may not specify the IP address, that is a function that is provided by my web browser (and by an additional internet request it makes to a DNS server of my choosing), and claiming that this is relevant is as absurd as claiming that I do not specify a phone number when I select a name from the list of contacts in my cellphone. This is relevant here only because it is critical that the ISP provide a neutral connection to the DNS server of my choosing (by IP address, yet!), as yet another example of why net neutrality is important, but once that transaction is done, my system is then making telecommunication requests by an explicitly-specified IP address.

Thirdly, there is exceptionally little competition in the ISP space, and it is exceptionally difficult for new providers to enter the market -- even if there is high customer demand. The FCC is no doubt aware that the vast majority of broadband connections rely on physical wires, and the cost of laying new physical wires to all houses is exceedingly high -- which is why it has been governmentally subsidized in many cases. To my house, in the middle of densely-suburban Silicon Valley, there are exactly two possible sets of wires that can cover broadband connections -- Comcast's TV lines, and AT&T's copper phone lines. Any and all ISPs that offer connections in this area are either those two companies or companies that rent AT&T's lines (and connecting equipment) at the mercy of AT&T's choice to allow this. Breaking into this market would be exceedingly expensive, especially as a new entrant would start with only a small number of geographically-distributed customers but would nonetheless need to lay lines through the whole neighborhood. This is a de-facto duopoly.

At the broader scale, the number of connections between major metropolitan areas is very limited, and subject to the same high costs for other entrants. If the two or three companies providing backbone service between the East and West coast decide that neutral service is not in their favor, there is little that as small local ISP at either end could do about the ramifications of that for the service they provide.

This is clearly, like any other monopolistic market, a market that relies on government oversight to protect consumers. And beyond the clear legal support for this oversight, it is fair and reasonable for the government to provide this oversight; these companies are able to build and maintain their market control through access to public streets for places to run the cables, through wireless frequencies that are a public resource, and through right-of-ways that are supported by eminent domain as needed.


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