Net-Neutrality Rollback is the Real ‘Right Thing’ for Consumers

Published August 1, 2017

After Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told reporters in May that net neutrality wasn’t a priority for his company, Netflix’s public-relations department announced the company would participate in the July 12 “Internet-Wide Day of Action” to raise awareness and lobby the Federal Communications Commission to keep former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s net-neutrality power grab on the books.

In the past, Netflix’s corporate speech was unquestionably in favor of net neutrality, but it toned down its opposition as of late because, according to spokespeople, it’s not Netflix’s “primary battle at this point” and there is no “special vulnerability” for the popular streaming service. Now, things have returned back to the way they were prior to Wheeler’s power grab.

On Twitter, Netflix admitted it didn’t care about net neutrality one way or the other, “but supporting open Internet is still the right thing for our consumers.”

Despite Netflix’s seemingly reluctant re-entry into the net-neutrality debate, rolling back Wheeler’s “Open Internet Order” — not keeping it in place — is the real “right thing” for all consumers.

FCC began work in May to undo net neutrality, putting consumers back in charge of how the internet — and the businesses responsible for building and maintaining the countless millions of internet connections and switches powering the web — should operate.

In 2015, Wheeler used net-neutrality rules to gain regulatory control over the internet, putting five unelected government regulators between consumers and internet service providers.

Before then, ISPs were largely regulated by another federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission. By almost all accounts, there was no need for FCC to grab regulatory power away from the FTC.

Anti-competitive behavior, such as one company blocking a competitor’s data as they travel over the first company’s network, was already illegal and already under the FTC’s regulatory authority. Further, there’s little evidence the FCC even needed to take over the internet.

According to the FCC, only a single incident of the sort of behavior net-neutrality supporters claim the rules would prevent has ever been proved to have occurred. In 2010, a hardware manufacturer claimed ISP company Comcast was blocking internet modems owned by consumers to favor Comcast’s modem rental service. Other than that, net neutrality has been a solution to a problem no one has had.

By regulating the internet as though it is a utility, such as an electric or water company , the FCC involved itself in the data transactions made between every recipient and sender — every bit and byte.

The fight over net neutrality was never about digital egalitarianism, although that’s what its advocates have said. Net neutrality is basically shorthand for “restrict consumers’ choices and prohibit paid prioritization,” hurting consumers in the name of helping them.

A paid prioritization agreement is an agreement between a content provider, or an edge provider, and a network owner to allow the provider’s data to travel on less-congested routes in exchange for an agreed-upon fee.

When networks are clogged with data during high-traffic times, prioritization agreements allow consumers to receive their requested data faster.

All kinds of data — emails, Taylor Swift GIFs, that Instagram photograph of your sandwich — travel through the internet, but some data types are more tolerant of delays and/or temporary congestion.

Receiving the data bits in the wrong order or at the wrong time causes distortions, stutters and other playback problems, because the recipient must wait for the improperly ordered bits to arrive and then spend processing power rearranging them.

If they choose to do so, edge providers such as Hulu or Netflix would be allowed to pay ISPs a little bit extra to have their content bits delivered to consumers across the ISP’s network faster than some other edge provider, such as Amazon.

If Amazon wants to get off the basic-service tier and receive a higher level of service, they can pay extra as well. It’s as simple as that.

Denying consumers and business owners this option of upgrading for better service, forcing ISPs to treat all data alike, denies that different kinds of data have different needs.

For almost the entire history of the internet, a hands-off regulatory approach has facilitated growth and improvements in customer service. This growth slowed to a crawl because of Wheeler’s rule.

The FCC’s efforts over the summer (which will hopefully continue into the future) to reduce stifling anti-consumer regulations imposed on telecommunications companies will get the government out of the way, encouraging improved service for consumers and increased flexibility for the companies serving them.

That’s a reform Netflix and everyone else who is truly concerned with improving the internet for the benefit of all should get behind.

[Originally Published at Investor’s Business Daily]