Monday, January 16, 2017

"Net Neutrality," The Election, John Thune . . . And Your Internet Service.

     "Net neutrality" is the principle that internet service providers should give equal access to all content and applications without blocking or favoring specific products and websites.  The
Senator Thune
Hopping Mad At The FCC
rule is enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, but I believe it is now jeopardized, generally, by the election of Donald Trump, and specifically, by the fact that our U.S. Senator John Thune has been a vigorous opponent of the concept for years.  When the FCC voted 3-2 in 2015 to regulate the internet--a ruling upheld last year by a federal court--Thune was
incensed, calling it "partisan . . . a power grab . . . and federal overreach."  
     Thune's reaction reflected the general attitude among ISPs, who would probably love to develop their services into multi-tiered offerings of speed and quality, giving customers levels of service that vary with prices.  A.T.& T. and Verizon last month were tangling in an issue over the subject with the FCC and will likely be most supportive of taking net neutrality out of the communications lexicon as soon as the Trump administration starts staffing it with friendly commissioners. Of some note, A.T.&T. and Verizon are two of the top 5 contributors to Thune's campaign committee and leadership PAC during the period 2011-2016.
     South Dakotans who are used to unlimited internet accessibility to all sites and apps with the same speed applied to each of them should be aware of this likely change.  The incoming Republican majority at the FCC can immediately hit the "undo" button and reverse course on net neutrality simply by refusing to enforce the rule.  As it stands now, ISPs are banned from blocking or slowing legal internet sites and apps or generally using their connectivity to favor some sites over others.  The problem for consumers will come when the service providers begin showing some form of favoritism toward content that they might happen to own.  Speedier access to premium sites is a possibility.  
     You can make a case that a more lucrative operational setting will drive greater research and development among telecom companies, but the numbers don't back that up. Using the industry's own data from U.S. Telecom, broadband investment is about 50% higher than it was in the
Keepin' It Real
Keepin' It Free
mid-90s.  My guess is that once consumers get wind of what's going on with this, a backlash will emerge.  Dependence on internet access is about as common as dependence on earlier forms of communication as they were being developed. I doubt that passage of the Federal Communications Act in 1934 granting oversight similar to net neutrality hindered telecom R & D during the ensuing decades. I doubt that leaving the status quo intact will do so in the future  


  1. I shall warrant the hoary assertion that "knowledge is good" is anathema to the new administration.

  2. Wow, John, your article is very timely. I am watching a documentary on Netflix, "Killswitch" about this very subject. But it does not worry about the cost or speed at which the companies would regulate the internet, but the regulation of content.

    This documentary points out that the fewer companies having control of the Information Super Highway, the easier that it is for the government to control. They pointed out that in the second half of the 19th and first part of the 20th century, the speed of communication came through one and only one company, Western Union. That company felt that Republicans governed best and so sought to make sure that Republicans were elected. Hence all the Presidents from Lincoln until Wilson, were Republicans.

    The documentary likens this type of control to bordering on fascism.