from the tomato,-tomahto dept
Whitacre's entitlement attitude in turned spawned the misleading argument that service and content companies (that already pay for bandwidth and own much of their own infrastructure) somehow get a "free ride," and therefore should start paying phone companies their "fair share." Though wrong, the argument was infectious, and we soon had telcos worldwide crying that they too deserve an extra payment for doing absolutely nothing. In short, it was AT&T's flimsy justification for double dipping that took net neutrality global.
Building on this bedrock of nonsense we've been trying to properly define net neutrality ever since. That job has grown more difficult as attempts to impose these troll tolls have grown increasingly clever (fixed-line usage caps, AT&T's Sponsored Data and the Netflix interconnection feuds being just the latest), but at its heart net neutrality is not complicated: create rules that protect consumers from bad ISP behavior in the face of limited competition.
Despite a decade of efforts to educate the public (with no thanks to the mainstream news media, pollsters or politicians), a recent Pew survey (pdf) indicates that only 61% of the U.S. public knows what net neutrality is. Based on personal anecdotal experience (glassy eyed stares at dinner parties when discussing the subject), I'd wager that number is too high and many of the survey participants guessed or used multiple choice contextual clues.
As the battle to educate consumers on the benefit of net neutrality goes global, the EFF says it's joined forces with 34 groups in 19 countries to create a new global coalition on net neutrality aimed at solidifying the definition of net neutrality at the ground floor. They've started with this shared definition, translated into 11 languages:
"Net neutrality requires that the Internet be maintained as an open platform, on which network providers treat all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination."Highlighting the problems inherent in trying to nail down specific neutrality language over the better part of a decade, the EFF of course then has to proceed to point out its definition isn't actually complete, and the group doesn't mean to prohibit reasonable network management:
"This definition doesn't imply that Internet providers can't use reasonable methods to manage their networks, for example to ensure that all applications from voice calls to downloads run smoothly, or to secure their networks from malicious uses like denial-of-service attacks. Neither does it mean they can't offer users different tiers of service at different price points, such as a residential-level service and a business-level service."And that's historically where the conversation has gone off the rails. Whether you're concerned about government over-reach or you just want the most effective rules possible without loopholes, it's often impossible to come to a consensus on basic language when neutrality is involved (define equal? define discrimination? what's reasonable?). That confusion is compounded by a broadband industry that has a vested interest in keeping confusion and hyperbole set to 11, whether that's claiming that neutrality rules will keep the deaf from using helpful technology or that net neutrality will somehow harm the poor.
Meanwhile, carve out exceptions for "security" and "network integrity," and ISPs just used those definitions to mask anti-competitive behavior. For example fixed-line network caps are necessary because of congestion (when no congestion exists), or we can't launch a competing service or platform because it's an ambiguous security threat. It's a very deep well, and in the States a decade of bickering and misinformation started by old Ed Whitacre has resulted in a mountain of muddy, unproductive discourse that sometimes seems to make even less sense as we tunnel deeper into it.
It's at that point one begins to wonder if the term net neutrality itself hasn't outlived its usefulness, given that at the end of the day we're really talking about stopping ISPs in uncompetitive markets from engaging in bad behavior. Make sure countries have functional, competitive markets, and net neutrality itself becomes less of a worry. Once that fails, you're down the rabbit hole of hyperbole, and if the United States is any indication, there's simply no bottom.