Nick Bhargava is co-founder of GROUNDFLOOR, the Raleigh-based pioneer of real estate crowd lending. He previously worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission, helping to draft the federal crowdfunding rules. He holds a JD and worked as legal counsel for SciQuest.
You might not be familiar with Net Neutrality, but it just might be one of the defining issues of our time.
Simply put, the core question of Net Neutrality is whether all bits are created equal. On one side are Internet users, startups, technology companies, content providers and First Amendment advocates, who believe the government should impose Net Neutrality rules. On the other side are the incumbent Internet Service Providers, who would prefer to operate and price discriminate consumers and content providers freely.
Government rules and regulations creating a Net Neutrality framework would require ISPs to provide access to content on a non-discriminatory basis. For example, Comcast could not charge you more money to access Netflix than it could for you access its own streaming video options. Likewise, Comcast could not charge Netflix more money to deliver content to its Internet subscribers by sole virtue of Netflix being a sought-after streaming service.
In this world, all bits are equal, and the ISPs mandate is to move bits from provider to consumer. We pay for throughput service regardless of what content those bits will form, just like we pay for domestic telephone service regardless of who is calling us. More importantly, the next great startup to challenge Netflix will be able to deliver a similar experience to customers at a similar cost. Comcast could not discriminate against the startup by charging exorbitant fees for service. This is more or less how telephone companies are regulated, and they are known as common carriers.
The Federal Communications Commission is tasked with regulating Internet Service Providers (as it is with regulating telephone companies). Rather than create a Net Neutrality framework, the FCC is currently considering proposed rules which would allow ISPs to discriminately price customers by creating ‘Internet fast lanes.’ These rules would allow ISPs to impose contracts on content providers for better delivery service, and the only recourse providers will have against an unfair contract is to ask the FCC to review it, leaving the provider at the mercy of an uncertain administrative review.
This is a dangerous precedent and denies the protections consumers and content providers would otherwise enjoy if ISPs were regulated as common carriers.
The ISP lobby is powerful, and has been using devious tactics in fighting off tougher regulation, such as creating fake consumer groups in favor of an ‘Internet fast lane’ rule. If that weren’t egregious enough, ISPs have long enjoyed the ability to cherry-pick regulation, taking the best parts of being a common carrier, such as being shielded from some types of liability, while having none of the obligations.
It’s time to tell the FCC enough is enough. You can voice your opposition to an ‘internet fast lane’ rule by directly submitting a comment to the FCC. Be sure to tell regulators that ISPs should be reclassified as common carriers. If you would like to learn more about this issue, be sure to read the Reddit blog and check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has a history of how ISPs have been abusing the system and behaving as monopolies.
If you believe in the democratic ideals of the Internet and the value of unbridled communication, it behooves you to make your voice heard in this debate. Please consider educating yourself about this issue and make a comment to FCC before the comment period ends this Friday.
And here’s the letter I sent:
I am writing in opposition to the proposed rule concerning net neutrality in Proceeding 14-28. I am very concerned that allowing Internet Service Providers to price discriminate internet content producers will have an adverse effect on the development of new technologies and the ability of the public to use the internet as an open forum of communication.
Giving the FCC retroactive authority to nullify discriminatory pricing agreements does nothing to prevent injury. It leaves small companies at the mercy of an administrative proceeding with an uncertain outcome while they may continue to suffer under a discriminatory pricing agreement. Moreover, I do not believe the rule as written is consistent with the Administrative Procedures Act on the grounds of due process.
Simply put, the proposed rule is a stop-gap effort which does nothing to address the fundamental issue at hand: guaranteeing the open and fair internet that the American public deserves. Given the overwhelming negative response to this rulemaking, it behooves the Commission to reject it.
In its place, I implore the Commission to consider regulating Internet Service Providers as Title II Common Carriers. Given that ISPs already selectively enjoy some of the benefits of common carriers without the obligations, and given the importance of an open internet to the preservation of citizens’ rights, there can be no other just outcome.
Nick Bhargava, J.D.