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An Open Letter to the FCC Regarding Net Neutrality


Jack Gardner

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Today, the FCC voted to accept chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to introduce new net neutrality regulations. While the proposal has been changed from what was earlier leaked in response to significant backlash, the proposal still contains ambiguous language and wording as well as the option for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to charge for internet "fast lanes," a concept that is seemingly antithetical to the entire idea of net neutrality.

A while back I wrote an article about net neutrality, now I am sharing with you a message that I wrote to the FCC. 

 

Dear FCC,

 

Net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally, is important to me because without it my livelihood could be in jeopardy.

 

A pay-­to-play Internet worries me because it goes against everything for which the Internet and this country stand. Pay-to-play Internet silences innovation and freedom.

 

It is disheartening to me to hear that for all the public outrage and the deafening denouncement of the ideas that run counter to open and free Internet, that the FCC continues to entertain the notion of allowing ISPs to have paid for "fast lanes" and "slow lanes."

 

There are many different ways that people approach the Internet. Some view it as a means of connecting with friends and loved ones. Others might view it as a source of nearly limitless entertainment through services like Netflix or through online gaming. Then there are people like myself who make a living and are employed through the Internet. 

 

I write about video games on the Internet and I like to think that I do it pretty well. It is a pretty amazing and wonderful job! However, if I learned anything over the course of several years of freelance writing on the internet it is that websites in my line of work don't tend to pay much. Many of my talented colleagues have either had to find other avenues of work while they pursue their writing career or abandon their dreams altogether. There are numerous problems involved in keeping a video game website afloat and those problems have resulted in a number of outlets closing their digital doors in recent years. This is my roundabout way of saying that there are already a number of financial concerns involved in running a website, even one that might appear to be successful. Those monetary problems will only get worse if they are also forced to pay to access a "fast lane" through numerous ISPs. My industry is an insanely competitive one where most of the available positions barely pay enough to earn a living. The financial burden of additional fees to ISPs could well prove to be the death knell of a number of websites in my business alone. And I would expect that this is the case for websites in other industries, too. Many sites rely on convenient user access to drive their ad revenue; a slower, restricted Internet would drive their less loyal readers to find their news, previews, reviews, etc. elsewhere. Alternatively, some sites could find that in order to pay for their users to have faster access they will have to lay off more employees/freelancers. I might not be intimately familiar with the financial details of the various sites in my industry, but I know enough to believe this could well be what breaks the camel's back. If you think that applying a "reasonable cost" might mitigate the threat posed by restricted access, I fear that you are wrong and, if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't be willing to take that chance.   

 

Allowing ISPs to adopt a pay-to-play approach to their services (which they are all too eager to implement) in no way benefits the public, of which you and I are a part. The only people who stand to gain anything from such an arrangement are the ISPs themselves. This is not an experiment to see if the Internet would run better if ISPs were allowed to set different pricing, this is a naked cash grab and one that threatens not only my livelihood, but also that of many of my friends' as well. Perhaps you are only thinking of the Google-s and Netflix-es of the world, though. Without a doubt those companies would be able to pay whatever price you deem as reasonable and be none the worse for the wear. Except that don't think that the backdoor dealings between services like Netflix and ISPs won't also affect customers. There is no reason that Netflix wouldn't hike its prices to compensate for having to pay ISPs for service. Allowing ISPs to adopt "fast lanes" hurts smaller online companies or would probably pass the buck on to customers. There is no way that the public benefits from this sort of scenario.

 

Now I'm just a writer, so I don't have a ton of technological proficiency when it comes to Internet networks, but another problematic aspect of this issue is that creating the differentiation between fast and slow service would seem to necessitate the deliberate slowing of non-paid traffic. Assuming this regulation is adopted and held, what incentive would ISPs have to increase the speed of the slow lane? Right now, what prevents ISPs from allowing all traffic to have faster Internet access or use the "fast lane?" These are genuine questions and concerns. Even establishing a minimum speed, as has been suggested, doesn't provide ISPs incentive to do any better than that speed for average Joe Internet User. At the end of the day, this just seems to complicate and worsen our country's Internet system, which is lagging far behind the speeds and reliability of a number of other nations'. Let's put ourselves on an even playing field and begin to make progress toward a faster future.

 

Everyone in the world has problems, let's not add to them by adopting convoluted regulations and allowing ISPs to take our money and laugh all the way to the bank.

 

The FCC is better than that. You are better than that. We are better than that.

If you are so inclined, you can also share your feelings on net neutrality with the FCC via the Electronic Frontier Foundation's DearFCC.org. Keep in mind that Tom Wheeler will be testifying in front of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on May 20. To that end, the EFF have also set up a different section of DearFCC.org to allow citizens to call their congressional representative to voice their concerns.

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