Net Neutrality Won't Fix ISP Throttling, Here's Why

Will the FCC Take Action?

To understand the FCC's position, you need to first understand that 12 years ago, the Federal Communications Commission declined to classify ISPs as so-called "common carriers." Had the FCC done this, the various ISPs would've been compelled to provide service according to certain benchmarks (also set by the FCC) and would've been subject to a great deal of additional regulatory scrutiny. ISPs would likely have been compelled to rent their infrastructure to other companies.

The reason the FCC didn't regulate the ISPs as common carriers is because it hoped lowering regulatory barriers would stimulate competition and result in more providers offering more options to US customers. It's now obvious that this approach has utterly failed. Instead of competing against each other more readily, national ISPs have drawn themselves into fiefdoms. Time Warner and Comcast have argued in front of Congress that their failure to compete in 19 of the top 20 US markets should be evidence for why they should be allowed to merge.

The FCC's previous attempts to enforce net neutrality were struck down because they didn't rest on the commission's authority to regulate ISPs as so-called common carriers. Word is that the organization is considering a hybrid approach that would regulate peering agreements under the realm of common carriers, but would allow for more flexible arrangements when navigating consumer-facing business.

This hypothetical plan, however, is so hypothetical that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler reportedly hasn't even seen it yet. Telcos are already furious at the approach, a statement which ought engender absolutely no sympathy from anyone whatsoever. These are the same telcos that sued to destroy even modest attempts at net neutrality in court, and the same profit-taking leeches responsible for the miserable state of US broadband today. When Comcast was asked to provide information on why its merger with TWC would enhance competitiveness, the company had the unmitigated gall to identify municipal partnerships as one way towns and cities could continue to compete with it -- but ignored the fact that it has sponsored legislative initiatives to ban such agreements under the guise of protecting free markets from government interference. The staggering hypocrisy of manipulating votes for itself in a blatant attempt to ban competition, while simultaneously claiming to defend consumer freedom and the rights of businesses to a level playing field, is utterly lost on ISP lawyers.

Net Neutrality Is Not Enough:

I suspect that the reason most people support net neutrality is that they're well aware that skyrocketing cable prices and a total dearth of competition have left them locked into deals with hated vendors. Comcast's terrible customer service continues to make headlines and the organization is seemingly incapable of setting policies that treat its workers or its customers like human beings. Into all of this comes net neutrality, with a basic argument that all data ought to be treated the same.

At least we're a world leader somewhere...Source:  Softbank
Figures like this spike the cable industry's protests that it needs to charge more to recover costs.

It's nice, as far as it goes -- but in the absence of robust competition at the ISP level, it simply cannot go far enough. What happens next and how the FCC takes action will indicate just how hard Tom Wheeler intends to push the telcos and cable companies. Absent actions that improve or promote competition. However, American broadband simply will not change. The entrenched monopolies and duopolies have locked in their markets, and they're not going to be dislodged without significant effort.

It's not clear that simply classifying the ISPs as common carriers under Title II is sufficient to fix the problem, either. The nations currently kicking our butt in both raw performance and cost per user have done so either by nationalizing broadband rollouts or by treating them as a public-private joint enterprise with cooperation between governments and the private sector. There's no reason this kind of approach couldn't work for the United States as well, save that huge entrenched interests and conservative bases will immediately scream that the government is attempting a wholesale takeover of the Internet.

The partisan optics of the situation are sufficient to scuttle almost any proposed changes, even when those changes are virtually the only way to break the stranglehold Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and the other ISPs have over the system.

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