Internet Fairness Just Crashed (Craig Douglass On Consumers)

by Craig Douglass  on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 12:00 am   3 min read

Al Gore didn’t invent the internet. Nor did he ever say he did. That was mirth-turned-myth promulgated by Mr. Gore’s late-1990s political opponents and a certain news-as-entertainment organization routinely employing a polite form of murder called character assassination.

No, the internet sprang from the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (it was called the ARPANET there), pioneered by Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn. Cerf did say, back in 2000, “Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the internet and to promote and support its development. … No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution [to the internet] over a longer period of time.”

So, there. Record straight.

This great American invention, which changed the way the world communicates, does business and lives — this vast democratization of connectivity — is under attack. The Trump administration, through the Federal Communications Commission, is screwing it up. Internet fairness just crashed! Net neutrality. Here’s a primer.

First, think about a common carrier. Like a utility. A common carrier is different from a contract carrier. A common carrier provides an impartial service to the public without discrimination. It’s open to all comers. A contract carrier, on the other hand, provides favored service to specific clients for a rate of pay based on the level of use.

The U.S. Postal Service is a common carrier. FedEx is a contract carrier.

Under the current net neutrality environment, put in place in 2015, broadband access to the internet is considered a telecommunications service, a utility. As such, providers of broadband — internet service providers (ISPs) — are classified as common carriers, but without the rate regulation or filing of tariffs that other utilities face. The best-known ISPs around here are Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

With these basics, you can see that simple net neutrality means keeping the internet “superhighway” on which we all travel a free and open path, much like a common carrier. By its very nature, this neutral, equitable, dispassionate environment prohibits discriminating against the information flowing through it, including blocking it, slowing it down or otherwise manipulating it.

In the absence of net neutrality regulations, overseen by the FCC, there’s a real possibility that ISPs will develop several levels of service and charge accordingly. Those levels could block or throttle to slower download speeds selected content on the low end and rapidly deliver content and other telecommunications-related services on the high end. Not unlike paying FedEx more for 10 a.m. next-day delivery or less for two-day delivery. This scenario has a name: paid prioritization.

To be balanced in the argument, proponents of the elimination of net neutrality believe the marketplace will govern behavior. For instance, The Wall Street Journal reported last month that in a blog post, an AT&T executive said that blocking or throttling content could mean “mutually assured destruction” for ISPs. With the deconstructing of net neutrality by the FCC, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Managing traffic on a network is one thing. Selecting traffic is quite another. And arbitrarily boosting content, particularly to target audiences based on a fee-for-service model, is particularly scary. Don’t I remember Facebook recently admitting that Russian internet trolls paid to have certain messages heightened and enhanced toward the eyeballs of their intended users?

Yeah. I remember that. But on Facebook it’s perfectly legal. Facebook is also a paid-advertising medium. Not so with the ISPs that bring Facebook to you.

Skullduggery of another sort may already be in play. Seems back in May when public comments on net neutrality were sought by the FCC, over 23 million comments were electronically submitted. Some of them were not authentic. There were thousands by bots (internet robots that perform repetitive communications tasks) and hundreds of thousands of comments from Russian email addresses, most in support of eliminating the regulations. Go figure.

So, thanks, Al. It was great while it lasted.


Craig Douglass is an advertising agency owner, and marketing and research consultant. He is president of Craig Douglass Communications Inc. of Little Rock. Email him at Craig@CraigDouglass.com.

 

 

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