When a comedian’s 13-minute rant results in a government website effectively shutting down, you need to start paying attention.
If you haven’t heard about “net neutrality,” you may still be living in an analog world. The idea behind net neutrality is that the Internet should be open to all, that no company can interfere with your right to online access to content and services. However, in January of this year, a federal appeals court threw out federal rules requiring broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally, instilling the fear, in many, that a tiered service offering would soon appear. Their fears were well-founded. In its effort to “thread the needle” between net neutrality’s advocates and opponents, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offered a draft of a proposal…and that’s when the sparks started to fly.
This proposal opens the door to allowing content creators to pay for faster service. In other words, companies like Verizon and Comcast (both internet service providers) would be able to establish “fast” and “slow” lanes for service and content providers; with access to the fast lane tied to payments. That might be workable for big companies that can absorb those costs; but for startups and smaller companies, being relegated to a slow lane could mean the end of business. If you don’t think a slower lane matters, think of how little patience you currently have in waiting for a site to load or an app to download. For advocates, this would mean the end to the level playing field that the Internet has become. The advocates have been pushing the FCC to, instead, reclassify the ISPs as “common carriers.” Like telecommunications and utilities, common carriers are legally bound to cater to everyone without discrimination. This classification gives government, and in this case, the FCC the power to regulate the ISPs.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the ISPs think about this idea…they hate it, and not without reason. According to Comcast, “The internet has continued to flourish over the past decade as ISPs have invested and innovated, bringing faster speeds and more Wi-Fi to consumers. [Reclassifying ISPs as common carriers] would threaten…private investment in the Internet.” The statement goes on to indicate that new and ongoing regulation would make broadband providers think twice about making substantial additional investments in new and upgraded infrastructures. And, they argue, that streaming content providers like Netflix and YouTube use an inordinate amount of bandwidth and should pay for that privilege.
So what does all this have to do with dingoes, and hacking a government website?
On June 1, pseudo news anchor and satirist John Oliver went on a 13-minute rant on his new HBO show, “Last Week Tonight” regarding the issue of net neutrality and the FCC. Speaking as an advocate, Oliver made the telecom companies the villain and the FCC…well…not much better. Regarding Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, Oliver said, “The guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm [Wheeler] is now running the agency tasked with regulating it. That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo.” (For those of you who never saw the Meryl Streep movie, “A Cry in the Dark,” the film is about a mother whose baby was killed by a dingo in the Australian outback.)
Oliver also suggested that listeners go to the FCC website set up for public comments. The next day, the FCC tweeted that the comments system was experiencing heavy traffic and thus was having technical difficulties. There are differences as to what caused the difficulties but many ascribe it to Oliver’s comments.
So is Oliver right? Will this be the end of the Internet as we know it? Will innovation disappear or will it do the opposite and grow? Will entrepreneurs find themselves priced out of the system or will this be much ado about nothing? Is the sky falling?
All kidding aside, the more you read about this issue and do your due diligence, the more questions arise. I’ll continue to watch closely, make my own decisions, and definitely avoid hiring dingoes as babysitters.
What are your feelings about net neutrality? Is it a threat or an opportunity for innovation?