Proposed Ruling for Fast Lane is Fundamentally Anti-Democratic — Letter to FCC

This was the letter I sent today to

I’ve heard biographers say that they can’t help developing an attachment to the people they’ve researched and written about in their books. I suspect something of the same kind of affinity develops between a social scientist and her topic because that is certainly the way I feel about cyberspace. And I find myself wanting very much to protect it.

My 2002 book “Cybering Democracy: Public Space and the Internet” had two main prongs. It was a celebration of the Internet’s potential for being a space where citizens could openly debate political issues. It was also a cautionary tale of how the Internet could become a place where citizens would be more easily surveilled and controlled. It seems that the time has come for more cautions and warnings.

If the FCC truly believes in democracy and wants to maintain an Open Internet, it would do well to set aside the ruling that would allow ISPs to implement a premium fast lane for content providers willing to pay extra. A tiered two-lane system will destroy the level playing field that the Internet currently provides. The only way it won’t is for other less greedy ISPs to opt out of this proposed setup. But with monopoly controls still in place and wireless satellite services still limited to small areas, consumers won’t have a choice. They’ll be forced to get their Internet service from the companies that don’t care about Net Neutrality — Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc. Make no mistake — this ruling is anti-democratic.

If you can’t set aside the ruling, then you should set minimum thresholds for acceptable ‘slow’ speeds so high that they effectively make the ruling useless. Comcast and AT&T and others should protect their profits the way most businesses in a supposedly free and competitive economy are forced to earn profits — by providing quality goods and services at affordable prices.

Instead of working hard to build a better mouse trap, as it were, Comcast, et al., are trying to become America’s next corn crop. Subsidized and protected and brought into every home in the guise of something that is good for us. But this is not good for Americans.

Bear in mind, too, that Comcast already charges customers for a higher-speed Internet service. But they aren’t, to my knowledge, actually building any of the technologies and protocols that move data faster. In fact, all ISPs today are profiting from a networking technology that was built by a branch of the U.S. DoD and paid for by American taxpapers. That’s not to say that private companies’ R&D divisions haven’t advanced those technologies. But has Comcast stated that it proposes to build a new Internet fast lane? My understanding is that it will be using existing technologies, which means that it will create a two-tier system by throttling back speeds on some Internet traffic.

By allowing this, the FCC is, in effect, forcing those Comcast customers who pay for faster Internet service to accept that Comcast will turn around and slow down some content. That begins to sound like a form of double billing and a breach of the Terms of Service, with companies like Comcast sitting in the middle collecting profits from both sides while still pretending to offer a “fast” Internet.

If pleas for democracy and fair play don’t move you, then please also consider what effect your policies will have on small businesses. The U.S. economy is increasingly comprised of tele-commuters and professional service providers that market almost exclusively on the Internet. It’s obvious that cable companies are pressing for a two-tier system so that they can cut the legs out of the competition, mainly video-on-demand Internet services like Netflix. But be careful you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Small businesses will suffer under this scheme, and so, therefore, will the U.S. economy.

Net Neutrality isn’t just a concept. It’s the fulfillment of a promise that on the Internet, all bits are equal. Please don’t make some bits more equal than others.

Thank you.

Diana Saco, PhD

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