Over 190 Engineers & Tech Experts Tell The FCC It's Dead Wrong On Net Neutrality

from the that's-not-how-any-of-this-works dept

There's now 11 million comments on the FCC's plan to kill net neutrality, a record for the agency and a significantly higher output than the 4 million comments the FCC received when crafting the current rules. And while many of these comments are fraudulent bot-crafted support for the FCC's plan, the limited analysis we've seen so far suggests the vast majority of those organizations, companies and individuals prefer keeping the existing rules intact. And most people generally understand that removing regulatory oversight in the absence of organic market competition doesn't end well for anybody not-named Comcast.

One of the more notable recent filings (pdf) from this tidal wave of opposition comes from a collection of engineers, technologists, professors, current and former IETF and ICANN staffers, and numerous network architects and system engineers. Collectively, these experts argue that the FCC is not only making a mistake in killing net neutrality protections, it doesn't appear to understand how the internet actually works:

"Based on certain questions the FCC asks in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), we are concerned that the FCC (or at least Chairman Pai and the authors of the NPRM) appears to lack a fundamental understanding of what the Internet's technology promises to provide, how the Internet actually works, which entities in the Internet ecosystem provide which services, and what the similarities and differences are between the Internet and other telecommunications systems the FCC regulates as telecommunications services.

This shouldn't be particularly surprising to you if you've watched FCC boss Ajit Pai wage a facts-optional assault on net neutrality, ranging from claims that the rules actively encouraged dictators in Iran and North Korea, to claims that ISPs are utterly innocent of anti-competitive behavior, but Netflix was violating net neutrality simply by running a content delivery network (CDN).

But the engineers single out numerous technical mistakes in the FCC's Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), including incorrect assessments and conflation of the differences between ISPs and edge providers (Netflix, content companies), incorrect claims in the NPRM about how the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 functions, how firewalls work, and more. But the engineers and architects also warn, as countless others have before them, that not having meaningful rules in place will result in an "balkanized" internet that will be nothing like the one that drove decades of innovation:

"If ISPs could engage in this sort of blocking, throttling, and interference (which would no doubt occur in the absence of the light-touch, bright-line rules in the Open Internet Order), it would transform the Internet from a permission-less environment (in which anyone can develop a new app or protocol and deploy it confident that the Internet treats all traffic equally) into one in which developers would first need to seek approval from or pay fees to ISPs before deploying their latest groundbreaking technology. Developers and engineers would no longer be able to depend on the core assumption that the Internet will treat all data equally. The sort of rapid innovation the Internet has fueled for the past two decades would come to a sudden and disastrous halt.

Well, not that sudden. It seems likely that if the rules are killed, large ISPs like Comcast will try to remain on their best behavior for a short while to give the impression that axing the rules was a good idea. But with no meaningful regulatory oversight (keep in mind the goal here isn't just killing net neutrality, but nearly all oversight of ISPs), and no meaningful competition, they're simply not going to be able to help themselves. If the ability to act anti-competitively without repercussion is presented on a golden platter, they will take full advantage in their unyielding quest for improved quarterly earnings.

Of course this isn't the first time Ajit Pai and the FCC have been informed that they're wrong on this subject, and are gutting meaningful, popular and important consumer protections solely to the benefit of a handful of massive (and growing) telecom and media conglomerates. They just don't care. And while Pai and pals will still likely ignore this cacophony of opposition and vote to kill the rules anyway, with all of the recent examples of shady behavior at the agency on this subject, you'd like to think that something vaguely resembling accountability will wander in their direction... eventually.


Reader Comments

The First Word

I'm one of the signatories

I don't agree with every last nuance of the letter, but my disagreements are unimportant quibbles, no more. I'm proud to have my name attached and humbled to have it in the company of so many that I consider mentors.

Let me observe that the debate here should not be about whether government should meddle in the Internet: government has ALWAYS "meddled" in the Internet -- and its predecessor networks. It created some of them, which is about as high on the "meddling" scale as you can get. So did academia. So did business. So did nonprofits. Everybody had a hand in building the 'net, doing everything from laying cable to writing code to crafting standards to figuring how to justify the long-distance bills for UUCP connections.

It all worked pretty well: look at the results. I think an argument can be made that the 'net is the largest and most successful engineering project ever. Not bad for making it up as we went along and doing a lot of it on handshake agreements.

HOWEVER...the long-term success of a cooperative endeavor like this is dependent on the mutual good will of everyone involved. Back when no real money was there to be made, that really wasn't much of an issue: nobody could exploit the situation even if they wanted to. But that was then, and this is now. Real money, lots of it, IS on the table, and there are people ready, willing, and able to destroy this cooperation to grab some of it.

They don't care about the 'net: they didn't build it. It wasn't their sweat, their all-nighters, their debugging sessions. So they're willing to inflict any amount of damage as long as they can cash in. The repercussions of that damage will ripple far and wide, with real-world consequences for everything the Internet touches: politics, art, commerce, health care, investment, education, everything.

Those people aren't going to back off because we ask them nicely. We tried that. It didn't work. Someone has to make them do it, and that means government. So no matter how much you or I or anyone may dislike that approach, the alternative is to allow the systematic destruction of the essential cooperative nature of the Internet so that a few people can profit. That's the real damage: not data caps or deprioritized packets or anticompetitive QoS: those things are fixable with a router change or a bill adjustment. But the cooperation that makes the 'net work has taken half a century to build and won't be nearly so easily repaired.
—Rich Kulawiec

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jul 2017 @ 11:03am

    Re: pai dont care

    We should not give up more of our rights (like internet access) to restore more of our rights!

    The internet is owned by the people who through their taxes paid for the government funding to develop the internet.
    The government owns shit, less so the corporations.

    We want our internet neutral and uncensored. Simple. We don't need to demonstrate anything.

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