The End of Equal Internet Access?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

BYOD Concept Bring Your own Device Security (Pixsooz/Shutterstock)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has invalidated key provisions of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) net neutrality rules.

In a 3-0 decision, the Court ruled that the FCC overstepped its regulatory authority in issuing a 2010 order that barred broadband carriers from blocking or slowing certain websites. 

According to Wired Magazine, the ruling could lead "to a curated approach to internet delivery that allows broadband providers to block content or applications as they see fit."

Scott Cleland, Chairman of Net Competition, an e-forum that represents broadband interests including AT&T and Verizon, applauds the Court for overruling the FCC. Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, disagrees. 

Cleland agrees with the court because he feels that internet companies need the ability to quickly adapt, change and innovate on a daily basis. 

"What common carrier regulation requires is a 'Mother May I?' system where if you want to build fiber, if you want to invent a new service or if you want to do something new and different and innovative you have to ask a regulator," he says. "A regulator may take months or years to get back to you."

Cleland says that these kinds of restrictions were placed on telephone companies, which is why the telephone itself didn't change for about 50 years. 

"Under common carrier where you have to ask the government for permission to innovate, things just don't happen," he adds, saying that is why the FCC has moved away from common carrier regulations for the last 40 years towards the unregulated information services space.

Crawford, however, feels that perspective is "absolutely wrong."

"High-speed internet access was a common carriage service until about 10 years ago," she says. "It turns out over the last 10 years we've seen enormous consolidation in the internet access market, to the point where, for high capacity connections, most Americans have one choice—their local cable monopoly. Yesterday's ruling said to the FCC that they can't deregulate with one hand as they did 10 years ago and then try to impose net neutrality rules with the other hand."

Cleland says that when looking back over the past 10 years, the U.S. developed the most competitive broadband systems on the globe. 

"Nothing bad happened over the last 10 years, and amazing innovative advances have happened," he says. "The premise here that somehow there is an economic incentive to not be open—it just doesn't make sense."

Who do you agree with? Listen to the full interview and weigh in below. 


Scott Cleland and Susan Crawford

Produced by:

Topher Forhecz


T.J. Raphael

Comments [16]


Who protects me from Verizon when they mess with my data and constantly overcharge me by a magnitude of 10 to 100, and then charge me more for the 'overage'. And what options do i have? none.

I have 3 ways to track the data flow - Verizon is higher by ALOT and they play the disclaimer of "oh that's not accurate you can't use that as a tracker" how do they get their final numbers?

I tracked 4 gigs for a month and they said 9.5 gigs.
I'm not the only one.
Nobody checks them.

I do not trust them.

Jan. 21 2014 11:38 PM
Chas NJ

In retrospect, I'm finding myself quite annoyed with the producer of this piece. Mr. Cleland threw quite a few numbers around as if they were facts. This one in particular irks me:

"Cleland says that when looking back over the past 10 years, the U.S. developed the most competitive broadband systems on the globe."

On cable news, I expect that guests on "newspinion" shows are invited on to chat and I assume that most of what they are saying is simply made up. So I don't watch cable news shows.

A cpb/PRI production however, should be doing at least a little fact checking when a guest starts talking like Mr. Cleland. Most of the US is what we call a duopoly; you have a choice between cable internet service and DSL service. Due to technological limitations, DSL is almost always a much slower option, so the take rate tends to be much lower. DSL is also limited in how far from the telco's "central office" is. Greater than about 10,000 feet, and you have no service. So even an area that might have a duopoly is going to have large swaths that are a cable monopoly. If you can't switch, or if your other equal-priced option (DSL) provides a much lower level of service, just how is that the most "competitive broadband system on the globe"?

Jan. 15 2014 06:01 PM
resuna from Houston

"What common carrier regulation requires is a 'Mother May I?' system where if you want to build fiber, if you want to invent a new service or if you want to do something new and different and innovative you have to ask a regulator," he says. "A regulator may take months or years to get back to you."

If telecommunications companies were in the business of doing things new and different and innovative, that would be a good argument. In point of fact, though, telecommunications companies are not in that business. Telecommunications companies are in the business of doing as little as possible and charging as much as they can for it. Putting in fiber? It's taken the threat of Google putting in fiber behind their backs that's even got them talking seriously about it!

About the only thing I can recall a telecommunications company doing lately that was innovative is T-Mobile's "un-carrier" campaign... where they have decided to act less like a gatekeeper and more like a common carrier, and this has been tremendously popular among their customers!

Jan. 15 2014 04:57 PM
G Park from Pittsburgh, PA

Apparently, "innovate" is code for "charge users more money". Also, I don't see how maintaining net neutrality prevents companies from installing fiber...

Jan. 15 2014 04:41 PM
Larry Littlefield from Brooklyn, NY

For New York City, at least there is a possible solution. As soon as Verizon makes good on its contract responsibility to install FIOS throughout the whole city, competing with the cable companies, the city should issue an RFP for a third provider to install for-pay Wifi throughout the city.

The provider would be permitted to install transmitters/receivers on the city's light polls, and use the power source that also feeds the streetlights. New fiber-optic cable would be laid in the street between the poles.

As part of the agreement the new service would have to be net neutral, and just provide high speed internet access not paid TV. NYC customers would then have three choices: cable, FIOS, and internet Wifi plus cellphones and broadcast TV. That ought to limit the extent to which the incumbents abuse their power.

Speaking of broadcast, some broadcasters are threatening to stop broadcasting over the air. If they do, I hope they won't be allowed to sell the bandwidth the federal government gave them for nothing. More public and public access TV should be the result.

Jan. 15 2014 04:07 PM
Chas NJ

That was some of the most infuriating spin I've seen. Ditto for our commenter above talking about the high cost of equipment.

Do these people really believe that Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, Yahoo and everyone else is just "plugging in" to AT&T and Verizon's networks? And this is free? No, of course not. These companies pay as much if not more and have their own networks to handle the massive amount of data that is requested by the (paying) customers of these ISPs. What the telcos want is to "double-dip". In their world, to watch Netflix, the math works like this:

-Customer pays ISP a monthly fee for their "unlimited" service
-Netflix pays their network providers a usage-based fee for transit connections and backhaul between cities
-Netflix also pays the ISP some arbitrary amount to gain "access" to ISP customers

The net result is the telco/ISP gets paid twice for Netflix traffic. I can certainly see why they'd like this. :)

Unlike the old days of Bell Labs, Verizon has more lawyers and lobbyists on payroll than engineers. That should tell you why they need to be regulated.

Jan. 15 2014 03:22 PM
Nechesa Morgan from Brooklyn, NY

I tried just this month for alternatives to Optimum in Brooklyn NY for my Internet. I have NO CHOICE unless I want DSL. I'm now going to have to pay $59.99 a month for internet ALONE. I hate this monopoly. Just HATE IT!

Jan. 15 2014 03:18 PM

Mr. Cleland's premises are not based on facts. Korea's has far more broadband access than we enjoy here in the US. All the cable and phone company own is the last mile...The wire that goes to my modem. All of the rest of the infrastructure that they themselves connect to "they didn't build that". DARPA provided the fundamental research that we ALL are using.

Allowing an ISP to throttle down potential competition is restraint of trade. Clear and simple. Until/when there are more paths to broadband access, the net needs to stay neutral.

Jan. 15 2014 03:18 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

How is it improper that the source and destination together should negotiate with the connection provider to pay a fee based on the amount of data transmitted along with a guaranty of Best Effort service?

High Quality of Service may be assured to an arbitrary degree through aggregated subscription, if both source and destination have reserved such connections.

If Net Neutrality can accommodate this scheme or some equally fair scheme, I would support it.

I have been involved in design and manufacture of network core routing machinery for fifteen years. My employers have supplied equipment for core and edge routing deployment. Our customers payed a LOT of money for this packet routing and packet switching equipment and other infrastructure which they deploy in ever-expanding quantity. Why should the cost of this connection and switch fabric equipment not be shared by the people who demand to use its capacity, commensurate with their usage? How is this not neutral?

Jan. 15 2014 03:05 PM

Can FCC threaten to remove regional monopolies if providers do not create a level playing field?

Jan. 15 2014 02:13 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Your guest Scott Cleland, Chairman of Net Competition is trying to railroad us into believing we will have a choice about our net provider... When I have a choice of lunch between McDonald's and Burger King, I accept the fact that I have no choice.

Jan. 15 2014 01:16 PM
Geraldine from Harrisburg PA

America is behind on internet packages! "FREE" in europe has a mega pack for 30 Euro for TV, landline and cell phone... Why USA doesn't provide this? Capitalism companies?

Jan. 15 2014 12:17 PM
roberta from pittsburgh

yes - and this nation of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations shall not perish from this earth!!!!!!!

Jan. 15 2014 10:13 AM
E Moore from NJ

Not mentioned in the discussion is role of local governments (state & city). They decide the companies that serve the community through the placement of towers and infrastructure in the community. This decision determines which companies gets access to a communities population. Further regulation and the injection of politics into this process on a national level would stifle innovation over a long period of time as big government regulation always does.

Jan. 15 2014 10:02 AM
Sam Winston from Detroit, Michigan

great, now they're allowed to throttle our connections? so now when doesn't work you can blame your ISP for your brand new 56k modem. what a joke. trying to monopolize the internet is sorta evil.

Jan. 15 2014 09:27 AM
J Sukovich

Re: net neutrality - see on the Web Bill Moyers' program "Net@Risk."

Jan. 15 2014 09:17 AM

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