Dragons in the Algorithm
Adventures in Programming
by Michael Chermside

Petitioning the FCC on Net Neutrality

I sent the following message to the FCC, which is currently accepting public input prior to promulgating new rules on "Net Neutrality".

To the FCC:

Some form of "Net Neutrality" is essential, and it is up to the governing agencies to determine what form and how.

The general principle holds that government should regulate as little as possible in order to allow citizens to innovate. However, there are some places where that principle must give way to other important principles. The building and deploying of a worldwide network is a vital public good, but because of very strong network effects (please pardon the pun) the network itself will tend to be run by a very small number of large corporations.

Soon, that network will transport nearly all communications in this country. It will be (already is!) vital to citizens' ability to communicate: to speak with each other, to associate freely, to petition their government, and so forth. It will also be (already is!) vital to business: many businesses exist solely on the internet (YouTube, online retailers, eBay sellers, iPhone applications) and even more physical industries rely on the internet for communications.

The important point is this: the small number of companies that are responsible for the infrastructure of the internet do not have the ability to completely silence someone: if AT&T or Verizon were to cut off internet access for anyone who took a particular political position the resulting hue and cry would lead to legislation to prevent such behavior. But they WILL have -- in fact, already DO have -- the ability to have a more subtle effect.

Companies could, with very plausible technical excuses, provide a small degree of preference for one customer over another. Perhaps they would deliver video slightly faster (so it works in realtime) for a major studio who paid them but not for the independent film producer. Perhaps they would block certain protocols that allowed anonymous communication while allowing others (this has already happened). The point is that the fundamental ability to communicate is too important to be allowed in the hands of a small number of companies, no matter how well intentioned.

This, then, is one of those rare situations where minimal government regulation IS called for. Rules are needed which will still permit companies to manage their traffic, but will prohibit them from discriminating on the basis of the origin, destination, format, or content of that traffic. And now is the time for such rules to be put in place.

Michael Chermside

If you feel similarly, I would encourage you to send your own message. But hurry. The last day on which they will accept public comment is April 8th.

Posted Sat 03 April 2010 by mcherm in Politics