For me, this seems to be the week to talk about internet regulation and privacy. Aside for the current ‘war’ going on in Syria, this seems to be one of the more pressing issues facing us right now, and it doesn’t seem that major internet companies are stepping up to the plate. For example, Netflix has said they are large enough now they don’t care to protect net neutrality.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says he’s “not too worried” about what will happen if new FCC chairman Ajit Pai eliminates the Title II regulations that have guaranteed a neutral internet experience for US consumers in recent years.
Speaking to a group of journalists at Netflix’s headquarters in Los Gatos, California, earlier today, Hastings said he believes “the culture around net neutrality is very strong. So even if the formal framework gets weakened,” he continued, “we don’t see a big risk actualizing, because consumers know they’re entitled to getting all of the web services.
What Hastings is talking about is the idea that people won’t accept their precious Netflix being slowed down by ISP’s. Or really any form of internet TV that is being subject to internet regulation. Internet is more or less treated like a utility now, much like water and electric, so unlike in Europe, where my internet is regularly throttled for data use, we know that this is culturally unacceptable in the US to do this.
With that being said, what Ajit Pai is proposing doesn’t seem to be a fundamentally taking away of internet regulation. In fact, net neutrality doesn’t have a whole lot to do with privacy in the first place. Despite tech websites freaking out about this, it might not be as bad as we think and might even allow for broader competition instead of incentivizing ISP’s to collude with each other for territory.
Firstly, it does seem like regulating ISP’s in the same way that we regulate internet services companies doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, which is why Netflix is saying what they are saying in the first place. Despite both using the Internet as a medium, Netflix and Verizon ultimately don’t have that much in common as businesses, and probably should be governed by different rules. Obviously ISP’s should not be allowed to impair or degrade access to content and services, and it seems like Pai wants force ISP’s to write into their contacts that they won’t do this as a form of internet regulation.
Will this work? It could, but we don’t have the answers to that yet. But it it worth recognizing that Aijit Pai, an Obama-era appointee (although he is Republican), has said that he is committed to the principles of a free an open Internet. I would imagine none of us reading this are fundamentally against the idea of net neutrality, but what it seems to me is that monopolistic ISP’s that collude with each other are the real problem, as they are not going to create better service if they are the only one’s in a given area.
This is why, on a fundamental level, I’m not against Pai trying to move internet regulation back to the FTC, who can hold ISP’s accountable on the grounds of trade, and not communication. However, we do need to keep in mind that when the FCC withdraws the Title II rules that are meant to regulate large conglomerates, it also surrenders the ability to regulate how traffic data is allocated and allows ISP’s to act in their own interest before the public’s.
This seems to be to be the big problem we’re running into. And while it doesn’t seem like Pai’s proposal necessarily answers that question, it does seem to me that the point of internet regulation is to create competition in the ISP’s you can use in your area, not to help large ISP’s break up territory like this was the Berlin Conference.