Like more than a million other Americans, I chimed in on the Net Neutrality/Open Internet saga with the FCC. Here’s my letter to Chairman Wheeler.
If this is tl;dr for you, then here’s the my one sentence summary. We need to treat all traffic on the internet equally and we need to classify broadband providers under Title II.
Dear Chairman Wheeler,
I am heartened to hear that 99% of the public comments submitted to you have been in support of net neutrality and an open Internet. The resounding response from the public should firmly illustrate that consumers value an Internet doesn’t discriminate and one that continues to facilitate a platform for innovation.
On the other hand, I am disheartened to read the comments made by major broadband providers/ISP’s and industry trade groups. In contrast, they’re advocating for an Internet that lets them discriminate against traffic, redefines free speech, and subjects them to less regulatory oversight.
Frankly, It would be a betrayal of the public trust if you were to create Open Internet rules that favor these ISP’s and trade groups. As a media entrepreneur and educational web video/content producer, I have a unique perspective into how a lack of an open Internet could seriously hurt my innovative work and the work of my peers as well.
I currently create personal finance lessons for web video to help address the financial literacy crisis in America. Whether it is video advice on how to handle credit card debt or getting started with personal budgeting, it is important that I effectively reach the widest possible online audience with my content, without any impediments. My viewers run the gamut between wealthy Americans to struggling urban dwellers, young college students to fixed-income seniors. Every American needs financial advice at one point or another and I hope every individual can easily discover my brand of advice.
However, if an open Internet is not preserved, small content producers with independent voices, like myself, will not be able to compete with commercially-backed content producers and the Internet service/broadband providers (ISP’s) they partner with. In effect, these influential partnerships will be able to control and disseminate extreme, biased, or commercialized messages that are detrimental to solving the financial literacy crisis, and in turn, innovation, a competitive marketplace, and free speech.
I’d like to present two scenarios that just scratch the surface of the terrible precedent that not maintaining an open Internet would introduce.
First, imagine a 20-something who just graduated college and needs advice on applying for his first credit card. He sits down at his computer and searches on Google for such advice. He sees a search result from BobbyLeeCreditCardAdvice.com, but the website takes ages to load because I have not paid his broadband provider a hefty sum for paid prioritization on his network.
Deterred, he flips back to the search results page and sees a listing for Bank of America-branded financial advice videos. This video loads instantly and in high-definition, because the bank elected for paid prioritization. The video tells him how easy it is to apply for a Bank of America-branded Visa credit card with a 29.99% APR. He decides to do so, without hesitation.
In this scenario, this individual been harmed by not being able to access unbiased, independent information when he wanted to. I have also been harmed because this individual cannot access my innovative, non-commercial content.
As a content producer, this impediment would discourage me from pursuing my work. Why would I want to help provide financial literacy advice online if I can’t reach my audience without having to pay an access toll? Now multiply this scenario out by the millions of entrepreneurs and innovators in the online space today and you can see how a lack of an open Internet could hinder innovation and progress on the Internet.
Second, I’d like to draw your attention to another scenario that is both realistic and disturbing. In 2011, the FCC allowed the merger of NBC Universal and Comcast, making it one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the country. For the first time, a single entity controlled the entire process of creation and distribution of media/content.
Using my work again in this hypothetical example, a Comcast executive one day asks their CNBC business news division to produce a set of personal finance videos for Comcast subscribers as part of a new lifestyle and healthy living website. Once published, Comcast decides to make these videos the sole financial advice videos available to its subscribers, regardless of whether the subscriber wants to seek out content from other sources.
Again, as a content producer in this example, I am completely locked out from more than 30 million potential viewers. And once again, why would I want to be a content innovator and producer on the web, facing such a large barrier to doing business?
Both of these scenarios are likely to occur if an open Internet is not preserved. Such behavior only scratches the surface of the kinds of unscrupulous business practices that commercial content providers and ISP’s could engage in through both regulated (i.e. FCC sanctioned) and unregulated marketplaces (i.e. third-party agreements/connections), like the agreement that Netflix and Comcast has recently forged.
Moreover, online entertainment stars like Michelle Phan, The Fine Bros, and Justin Bieber have all benefited from open Internet protections. Through their platforms, they used such protection to launch their careers, innovations, business models, and more. Any Internet user at any time was able to access any of these celebrities’ self-produced pieces of media, without impediment.
Without such protections, these independent voices would not exist today. We would not have new monetization models, a robust online advertising industry, jobs for manufacturers who create high-definition video and audio recorders to facilitate the creation of this media, and so on. Open Internet protections paved the way for my work, the work of countless innovators in my industry, and jobs in related industries.
Therefore, an open Internet needs to be preserved so that anyone with a voice and opinion can he heard and seen by other users around the world. Discriminating against certain traffic would clearly go against your promise of keeping the Internet an open platform for innovation and expression.
However, we must also figure out a framework in which your agency could implement such protection and a way to punish those who violate it.
Wired and wireless broadband providers have shown time and again that they will not act in the best interest of consumers until they are forced to do so by the FCC, FTC, DOJ, local municipalities, or other regulatory/oversight agencies.
To understand the gravity of the problem with fixed-line broadband ISP’s like Comcast and Time Warner, one must simply search online for “cable company complaints” to fully realize the industry’s lack of commitment to serving (and protecting) the consumer. For example, arbitrarily high monthly charges, poor customer service, an inability to provide speed, and a lack of drive to solve the “digital divide.” And the list goes on and on. These fixed-line broadband providers only exist today because of the limited monopoly that both the FCC and local municipalities grant to these providers in just about every market in the nation.
Moreover, these providers have sought to squash competition from municipalities who try and launch their own broadband service (like in Chattanooga, Tennessee) and innovative industry disrupters (like Google Fiber).
Similarly, to grasp the acutely egregious problem involving wireless broadband providers, like Verizon Wireless one must look at their track record of innovation. Wireless providers have argued that their spectrum limitation begets data caps, throttling, and data discrimination. However, I would argue that they are seizing on the FCC’s fear of trampling on wireless service innovation and using it to their advantage.
Both wired and wireless providers have sought to discriminate against traffic, cap bandwidth and data transfer allotments, and meter traffic during peak periods. If these providers were truly interested in most efficiently using their spectrum for data services and providing the best and most available broadband service possible to every American, they would have invested billions in research and development into hardware and software solutions years ago. Instead, the industry’s main players are more worried about what sort of meter to use in charging for customer data usage rather than increasing speeds, bandwidth, network capacity, and accessibility.
Additionally, both wired and wireless broadband providers have been given a decades-long lead-time to innovate and serve the American consumers. But they have proven that they cannot be trusted to do so.
Additionally, if an open Internet is not preserved and providers were allowed to discriminate/prioritize traffic, you would remove the incentive for providers to improve overall access to the Internet. Their economic incentive would be to maximize fees charged for paid prioritization, not bridging the digital divide and increasing bandwidth/Internet speeds.
Therefore, It is imperative that the commission classifies both fixed-line ISP’s and broadband wireless service providers as common carriers and telecommunications services (Title II) for the purposes of protecting an open Internet. In turn, we must regulate interconnection and peering agreements for the sake of protecting innovation.
Fixed line and wireless broadband providers have a network that’s analogous to the hub-and-spoke, copper wire Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) networks that currently regulated telephone providers own. And simply speaking, is the critical evidence needed to allow for Title II classification.
Without such a classification, we would lose the opportunity to foster American innovation and to catch-up in the broadband speed competition worldwide. One only has to look at the economic success enjoyed by other industrialized countries (like China and South Korea) to understand the importance that high-speed wireless telecommunications and broadband/Wi-Fi access has had in improving a country’s prosperity. That is why it is particularly important for FCC to classify all broadband providers (fixed line and wireless) as Telecommunication Services. This will help to ensure an open Internet right now and as new innovations are developed.
In closing, the commission and your agency have always taken the stance that we must foster innovations, incubate new markets, and ensure that they grow unencumbered. However, broadband providers, as an industry, have already matured. They have shown that they cannot act in the best interest of the American public and should be regulated to the maximum extent possible.
But the one area that still needs protections are independent, fledgling voices on the Internet that are still growing. These voices, like mine, need protection from commercial interests that threaten to silence us with multi-million dollar paid prioritization deals. I’m am most certain that this is not the Internet this agency envisioned years ago.
So I urge you to support policies that protect an open Internet, prohibit paid prioritization, and reclassifies all wired and wireless broadband providers as Telecommunication Services under Title II.
Thank you for your time and consideration.