Net Neutrality and Other Tech Oxymorons
Posted at 8:00h, 05 Dec 2017 in List Archive by Bonnie Halper No Comments 135 Likes Share

The Net Neutrality (NN) issue has surfaced again under new FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, who’s threatening to reverse it. The tech cartel, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, have come down strongly against the move, framing it, once again, as control over that so-called last mile being the proverbial ‘us’ versus ‘them’ scenario. Why not? Worked the first time under the less than transparent 332-page regulation that passed in 2015. All things considered, we can’t help but wonder if the real problem is Ajit Pai or agitprop.

Net Neutrality basically mandates that all data on the internet must be treated equally, but that’s misleading. We’ve previously covered how the tech cartel has wrested enormous financial benefits and control over content under the 2015 rules, and given the amount of censorship that they’ve managed to exert since the rules went into effect, it seems that the telcos weren’t necessarily the problem and that NN was not necessarily the solution.

Power Shift

Since these regulations passed, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have moved to become the ultimate arbiters over the content we see on line, under the guise of eliminating so-called “fake news” and what they deemed to be “inappropriate content.” They all lobbied hard for the 2015 rules, which were crafted in a way that they would be exempt.

Amazon, too, was exempted, and according to Bloomberg, Tudón Maldonado, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Chicago, “looked at Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch.tv, a popular platform for video games, eSports and musical performances, among other services. Twitch itself advocates net neutrality, but applies its own service prioritization rules within the system. Maldonado found that Twitch users benefit from this prioritization, receiving higher quality programs and suffering less from bandwidth congestion… Have you ever used your Kindle to connect to wireless to download new books from your Amazon account? You can download the books, but you can’t use that same wireless connection for more general purposes.”

Hardly neutral

As Christopher Roach points out, “Google notoriously plays games with its search algorithm to channel viewer’s search results in a particular and ideologically-tinged direction. If these voices—some of whom are strong proponents of so-called net neutrality—continue in this direction, the prospect of neutral ISPs will matter little, as the virtual gatekeepers of the Internet will stifle free expression by leveraging their privileged, near-monopoly positions to do so.”

Says Sandy Parakilas, who was hired by Facebook “to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering… What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse… Lawmakers shouldn’t allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won’t….The more data it has on offer, the more value it creates for advertisers. That means it has no incentive to police the collection or use of that data … Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place (New York Times, We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself).”

The Truth About Net Neutrality

Here’s a great explanantion of how it really presently works (Everything You Need To Know About Why Net Neutrality Is A Terrible Idea): “(1) The ISP cannot offer Google a premium service (faster speeds, better reliability, etc.) over any arbitrary smaller company that can’t afford to pay the same prices. All customers must be treated equally. And (2) all traffic through the ISP must be treated the exact same way. This means that if the ISP is transmitting packets for a file transfer for an online storage requirement, it must treat the data packets in that transfer the exact same way that it treats packets from a live video stream.

“The fact is, however, that today Google does not do this…Google (and other large enterprises that deliver content to end users – think Netflix, Facebook) maintains its own global network infrastructure, and peers directly with ISPs at internet exchange points. Google explains this in more detail on their own website. This means that Google is not a customer of an ISP. Google simply connects to these internet exchange points, and here it peers with service providers.”

So why is Google pro-NN? “Google is privy to the fact that smaller companies, competitors, and start-ups bereft of the resources and capital available to build a global network infrastructure and peer with providers, must instead become customers of higher tier service providers to reach end users. And what better way to stifle competition in the market, than have these smaller companies subject to a bevy of regulations you’re free of.”

The US used to have the best broadband. Now it’s middling at best: NN helped to stifle competition – and innovation. Rather than it ever having been an “us” versus “them” scenario, it was more a case of divvying up fiefdomes: “we’ll control the content; you’ll control the pipes.” As Pai himself noted in Broadcasting and Cable, the Silicon Valley cartel has been “using the regulatory process to cement their dominance in the Internet economy.”

Just look at the numbers.

Net Neutrality and the Banishment of Unicorns

Ever wonder why newcos have failed to reach unicorn status since the NN rules were enacted? Case in point: Blue Apron went public; Amazon announced that they were going to do meal kit delivery and registered a domain. The Blue Apron stock tanked.

Time spent on Facebook has certainly dropped sharply, which doesn’t mean that people have abandoned social networks. So, where’s the competitive platform? (We know and no doubt coming anon to a blockchain near you).

NN is restraint of trade by any other name. And potentially worse.

Apple CEO Tim Cook went on record as being pro-Net Neutrality, and spoke recently at the 4th World Internet Conference in China (Google’s Sundar Pichai was also there), where China’s Top Ideologue (Wang Huning) Calls for Tight Control of Internet. “Developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

As the New York Times points out, “China has led the way in cutting its internet off from the world with filters and blocks known as the Great Firewall of China,” so we wonder what Cook’s vision is of that common future, especially in light of the fact that Apple (along with Facebook and Google) has been complicit with China, having “complied with government orders to pull Microsoft Corp.’s Skype phone and video service from the Chinese version of its popular app store,” according to PJ Media.

Apple is also no stranger to censoring products domestically, considering that Twitter competitor (and more conservative-leaning) gab.ai is still not available in the app store.

Considering that China plans to establish their World Internet Conference as the Davos for the major tech companies, given their compliance with China’s authoritarian regime, seems that their censorship of American voices whose politics are not in agreement with their own might have been mere practice for what’s to come.

As always, and to paraphrase Wayne Gretsky, keep your eye on where the puck is going, not where it has been. They need only resolve that pesky Net Neutrality issue once and for all, and it seems that the tech cartel is poised and ready to move onward and forward.