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Hi everyone! I’m here today to talk to you today about Net Neutrality. So who here is familiar with the concept of Net Neutrality? You can all put your hands down. I guarantee that you’re not.
But I’m here to help. It’s gonna be educational AND fun, I promise! Okay, I can’t promise that, but what I can promise is that if you don’t immediately skip to the comments to regurgitate whatever talking point appeals to you and actually read an article for a change, you’ll be rewarded with some dick jokes and maybe a little bit of insight.
Thank you. On with the edutainment!
So here’s a brief history of communication: At first, we slapped each other around, and pointed. Then, we were able to use vocal grunts in combination with slapping and hand gestures. Next, we developed the ability to use rudimentary sounds that were the origins of what we call “words.” From there, we combined that with our newfound love of drawing bewbs and dicks on walls, and had the basis for a combination spoken/written language. Several iterations of this existed for a while.
We then realized we needed to send messages to other people in far away castles, to tell them they suck and stuff. This began with just telling some dudes the message and making them tell someone else, which evolved into writing down the words (or dicks or whatever) and making one of those dudes carry those those stone tablets or parchments to the recipient. Skipping over the practice of pyres and smoke signals, we get to the late 18th and early 19th Centuries when telegraphy was invented. Telegraph communications as WE know it were patented by Samuel Morse, who also codified Morse Code. There were other competing ideas at the time but trust me, they were all very dumb, which is why there’s no point in learning about them.
Taking the idea of passing relevant vibrations through copper wire led to Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone in the 1870s, followed quickly by a completely untrained Italian farm boy named Gugliermo Marconi perfecting wireless transmission of Morse over long distances. Pretty soon we were blasting audio and video messages over airwaves! Sweet!
After some patchwork laws concerning radio waves and telephones, we decided to codify the whole shebang with the Communications Act of 1934. The act essentially states that telecommunications are a necessity of life, vital to the common good and national security. It also says that transferring thoughts and ideas, regardless of how shitty and pro-Taylor Swift, are to be treated equal. This second part is really important, because it means that telephone companies are considered common carriers, the same designation as public utilities. Water, electricity, oil pipelines, and so forth must treat their cargo equally, same goes for phone lines. What this means is that if you’re the mayor of a town and your friend owns a Domino’s, you can’t make the local telephone switchboard not connect to Pizza Hut. I know that’s pretty reductionist, but that’s the gist.
So why is the Internet not regulated the same way as telephone calls and television? Because up until like… 2008 it wasn’t considered necessary; it was more of a luxury item. Look at fancy pants with his Gateway 3000 surfing the ‘net on Prodigy! Y’all are probably too young to understand that sentence, but I assure you it’s hilarious. It’s still technically “Information Services” which is an ornate way to define why Mia Khalifa is famous.
So I’ll pause to address some questions you probably have.
What exactly IS Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the concept that all data passed over the Internet is equal, and as long as it’s legal content, no Internet provider can hinder it, whether that comes in the form of blocking access to websites, or prioritizing some information over others.
2) Why are we talking about this?
Because on Thursday, the FCC voted to abandon all Net Neutrality regulations. This is the strongest stance the relevant government oversight organization has taken on the subject, ever.
3) Why should I give a shit?
You’re using the Internet right now, you fuckwit.
4) What makes noted gourd fornicator Icehouse qualified to speak to this?
For several years, I worked in the public affairs section of one of the largest telecom companies in the world. Yes, I devoted a substantial portion of my waking hours to opposing any sort of Net Neutrality through lobbying efforts. No, I do not agree with the FCC’s decision. Why the discrepancy? Because I’m a filthy, filthy whore. The point is: I’m in a unique position to speak to this issue.
So what I’d like to do is to clear up some misconceptions on arguments for and against Net Neutrality. Before we get into that, I want to take a second to really express how hugely influential and important Internet Service Providers are. They control every single aspect of how we communicate today. Think about how vital Internet access is in all walks of life. To apply to college, find a job, register to vote, meet people to have sex with them, set up utilities for your home, pay bills, order food, keep in touch with loved ones or be aware of the outside world, you NEED Internet access.
This is not to bash ISPs. They have put in a ton of work behind the scenes to make it possible for us to do all of these things. Bell Labs averages seven new patents PER DAY. Just take a look at this ad campaign from 1993:
If you can get past Business Jenna Elfman, you’ll see a ton of products and practices that are commonplace today that were baffling and futuristic 25 years ago.
Back to the issue at hand. There are valid reasons for both points of view on Net Neutrality, but if you’re not primarily paid in stock options from telecom companies, you better put on some make up. You’re gonna want to look pretty when you get fucked.
Point 1: ISPs Should Be Able To Charge Customers Based On Consumption
Your dumbest friend said this. This is not what Net Neutrality is. ISPs can and do charge based on consumption. Just look at your wireless bill every time you forget to hook up to the wifi and then watch the whole Queen Live at Wembley Stadium concert on YouTube. There are also tiers of service. People get charged differently based on the speed in which the Internet gets to their house. Net Neutrality has nothing to do with end-consumer pricing (yet).
Point 2: ISPs Take Advantage of Public Property And Therefore Should Be Heavily Regulated
This is a bewildering argument I saw on a couple of left-leaning outlets. While not entirely baseless, it’s still a little silly. In order to provide you with Internet access, communications providers have to access physical properties to pass the information across. This can take the form of wireless spectrum in the invisible airwaves, or actual public rights-of-way (think telephone poles along public streets). The problem is that ISPs have paid lots and lots of money to access those things. The most recent wireless spectrum auction
ended up costing T-Mobile $8 billion (WITH A B) and Dish Network $6.2 billion.
That’s a fuckload of money and those auctions happen ALL THE TIME. Couple in the R&D, tech manufacturing and man hours costs to build and maintain the infrastructure to keep all this shit running, one could be forgiven for feeling human sympathy for these companies. Now, are they dicks about it? Yes. Google Fiber has had a bitch of a time rolling out service in Austin because AT&T won’t let them use the property they’ve rented (and in turn sublease to all other competitors). But that doesn’t really make this argument correct. Tell you friend to keep write-in voting Eugene Debs and move on.
Point 3: Government Regulations Only Stifle Investment and Innovation
This is probably the most nuanced part of the conversation, and could merit an entire post in its own right, but I’ll try to address it as concisely as I can here. It’s absolutely true that online-based services have been the major economic driver of the American economy in the last couple of decades, and it’s absolutely true that a massive amount of the growth and development of information technology is due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that largely deregulated telecoms. What this law basically did was allow local cable TV companies to start offering phone service, and vice versa, meaning that everyone just gained a ton of competitors. However, it also allowed companies to start consolidating. Perhaps the only thing worse for consumers than overregulation would be monopolies (or duopolies or oligopolies for that matter). At this point in time, there are only two, possibly three real players in the wireless market, which has resulted in de facto price fixing. And to clarify before the Missouri contingent pipes up, yes I’m saying that Sprint is an also-ran.
While the average American consumer has a choice in their Internet providers, many places have few, if any options. At two separate times in my life I lived within five miles of the global headquarters of two different Internet providers, and both times I only had one option for Internet service. The kicker: Neither time was I offered service from those providers I lived near. As much as the Act of 1996 served to create competition, the genesis of that environment owes a huge part to the breakup of the Bell system in 1982. Too much regulation is bad, but the absence of it is also bad. There’s a solution in the middle, and as we all know, only Sith deal in absolutes.
The not-so-secondary part of this argument is that these laws only address ISPs, when an ENORMOUS proportion of the economic growth we’ve experienced comes from companies and organizations that depend on a level playing field for their services. Netflix, Amazon, Google all the way down to companies like Grandex need to be able to have their content treated equally to even be built in the first place. THAT is what the issue is. You think Larry and Sergey would have gotten off their asses if they knew that their new site was just going to get dad-dicked because Internet Explorer could block or throttle access to their searches? Nope.
I don’t begrudge people that are averse to government regulation. They have a valid point. But nobody bitches that cars are required to have seat belts in them. Everyone is fine with regulations at some level.
Point 4: These Rules Have Only Existed For Two Years, We Were Fine Before That
Now we’re wading into the realm of industry talking points. On face value, the comment is true, as the Open Internet Order of 2015 was instituted in… well, 2015. In reality, all the order really did was codify what was existing precedence from the dawn of time. The first real FCC initiatives regarding Net Neutrality came in 2005, when the FCC adopted what they called the “four principles.” While they didn’t expressly forbid ISPs from managing content flow, they implied it, and all court challenges to that effect upheld the fact that ISPs were not allowed to block or throttle any legal content. So that argument is nonsense.
Point 5: Net Neutrality Is A Solution In Search Of A Problem
I’ve seen this repeated a lot by telecom industry folks, as well as the people carrying the water for them. Basically, ISPs are saying “well we’ve never done anything like this in the past and we won’t do it in the future.” This is a flat-out lie. There’s no other way to describe it. ISPs have, in the past, throttled or blocked legal content. What’s even funnier is that high level executives have expressly said that the only reason they don’t fuck with your Internet more is because of the rules in place. My personal favorite comes from former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre, who said he was going to charge Google to exist on his network.
Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that.
Objectively, that’s a hilarious statement. But it cuts right to the core of what this is all about. Internet Service Providers have an innate desire to favor some content over others, and that’s what these rules used to prevent. Without them, we are completely beholden to what our Internet providers think we should be able to access. If you want to watch Netflix but your ISP has a deal with Amazon, you will be shit out of luck.
So that’s where we’re at. There are no longer protections in place to prevent Internet Service Providers from slowing down or outright blocking the Internet services we use to keep in touch, learn, work, create or beat Ross at FIFA. There is also now an open door for Internet gatekeepers to charge companies to gain access to their customers, which will inevitably lead to higher prices for those services.
What’s more problematic in my eyes is that when (and it’s only a matter of when) these deals begin to get made, it will become substantially harder for smaller players to gain access to markets, meaning there will be a drastic slowdown in small companies being created and the growth that goes along with entrepreneurship. Let’s say you want to start a smaller online retail site like, I don’t know, Man Outfitters. You’re not going to have the capital in place to make these deals with ISPs that will allow you an even footing with companies like Amazon. Even a slight slowdown will seriously mess with your bottom line. 40 percent of shoppers will likely abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. That should be terrifying for anyone who’s looking to start a business or maintain one that’s not already hugely established.
If you’ve made it this far, I commend you. This is a pretty complex issue, so I left out quite a bit. If you’re not already bored to tears and have any further questions, feel free to drop them in the comments or DM me or whatever. The whole point of this massive wall of text is to drive home the fact that this is a really big deal, and the forces at play are far more powerful than you think.
Thanks, and happy web surfing..