Why the FCC's net neutrality proposal is fundamentally dishonest

The FCC wants to allow 'commercially reasonable' traffic management, but surely it realizes the proposal would inevitably create haves and have nots.

I’m hardly a networking engineer, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the FCC’s new plan for net neutrality is fundamentally flawed. 

“Commercially reasonable” is a license to do whatever you want

The Federal Communications Commission says that it wants to allow “commercially reasonable” traffic management, including allowing some companies to pay for a guaranteed level of better service. This so-called Internet fast lane is OK, the proposal reasons, as long as there’s no “blocking” or “slowing” of other services, which would retain a baseline level of acceptable service.

That might be fine as long as the practice is only used occasionally in unusual circumstances (see my January post with 3 reasons AT&T’s sponsored data plan isn’t the end of the world… I was so naive to think it would all stop there), but any honest observer knows that commercial pressures will immediately begin encouraging characters to make that “fast lane” the default—turning the baseline into the de facto slow lane.

Carriers won’t have to do anything in particular to make this happen. They won’t have to violate the letter of the law (I know, it’s not law yet) by intentionally “slowing down” the baseline service. All they’ll have to do is not upgrade it as aggressively as they might, reserving most investment and innovation for the fast lane. 

You can’t have a fast lane without a slow lane

Under that eminently predictable scenario, it won’t be long before the fast lane is the real baseline standard, and the baseline becomes the slow lane. Because let’s face it - this all a matter of semantics. If you have a fast lane, pretty much by definition you also have a slow lane. And simply calling the slow lane the baseline doesn’t make it go any faster.

Trying to make an end run around these realities by calling them different names makes the FCC one of two things: incredibly stupid or fundamentally dishonest. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been quoted saying:

"I don't like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have-nots, and I will work to see that does not happen, We will use every power to stop it. The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable.”

Wheeler may not be a rocket scientist either, but he can’t really believe that his proposal wouldn’t result in exactly that situation in the real world. His proposal comes off as little more than a cynical ploy to recast the debate from slow lanes to fast lanes, but perhaps Wheeler is caught in the wheels of much larger market and political forces.

After all, he’s also proposing to look into classifying broadband as a “common carrier service,” like phone service providers, subject to a wide variety of regulations designed to ensure fair and universal service.

Feel free to break out the brickbats, but that approach actually makes sense to me. After all, which is more important to you and your company these days: phone calls or data? 

I thought so.

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