My daughter came home the day after the FCC repealed net neutrality and repeated what she’d heard: That we would soon be paying for online searches and ISPs were going to block our access to Snapchat and Vimeo – that is unless we paid for it. She’s not the only one to hear scary stories about net neutrality. Rumors are constantly circulating, so it’s time to take a step back and look at the new business models of leading internet-based companies and legislative initiatives. These initiatives began even before the repeal of net neutrality to make sure the worst-case scenarios do not occur.
By the end of this three-part series, we plan to fully explain how access to the internet and all its services won’t disappear or become overpriced. Changes are already in motion, including new congressional legislation to address a few of the universally accepted components of net neutrality, such as the inability to block or throttle access.
Let’s start by looking back at the beginning of the internet and how its creation and progression mirrored the Wild West and revealed a need for oversight, which led us into a debate that continues today on what that oversight should look like.
Unlike landline voice services, the internet has achieved most of its growth and innovation without any federal legislative control. There has been little to no federal regulation of broadband services for the majority of the internet.
It all started in 1969 when the original proof-of-concept for the internet was completed when two interface message processors (IMPs), one located at UCLA and one at Stanford University, facilitated a simple transaction across the precursor to the internet known as Arpanet (Advanced Research Projects Agency). That set-the-stage for a dramatic change where users could access computing infrastructure, interact with information architectures and leverage related technology-enabled hosted services.
About ten years later, a scientist named Robert Metcalfe from the world-renowned XEROX PARC started 3COM, focused on exploiting Ethernet technology previously developed at PARC to enable an open networking of computers. The philosophy of promoting open industry standards to enable end-to-end interoperability across competitive networks would become instrumental in future years. Open networks began in a world dominated by much faster and more mature proprietary network technologies. But as we will learn, the internet is a continually evolving paradigm of the “Little engine that could” success stories.
A few years later SUN Microsystems took the concept of the Ethernet and embedded it directly into its computer chassis. The trademark motto of SUN underscored the long-term-evolution of this new virtualized global frontier: The network is the computer. The SUN workstation incorporated the Ethernet Port invented at PARC as a way to connect multiple devices across an open network.
By the time ARPANET evolved into the currently known public internet in 1991, there was another fundamental paradigm shift to eliminate the legacy direct hard-wired geographic and proprietary dependency on user workstations, (e.g. the old mainframe TN3270 terminal) which was connected to a central mainframe. New markets rapidly emerged where consumers were given compatible options based on open industry standards across an ever-growing spectrum of competitive solutions. Tim Berners-Lee invention of the World Wide Web transformed this openness into the convenience that would eventually grow into the internet we know today.
In fact, simultaneous innovations in technology, markets and delivery began to occur so quickly that a new term “Internet Time” was coined to represent how events occur at a faster rate on the internet and that the internet is affecting our pace of change. The inter-connected inventions and market growth were achieved without any government legislative oversight. There were professional volunteer associations like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that represented global collaborations. They stayed centered on publishing open standards that any solution provider could leverage to bring their innovations to market.
The strategic idea driving net neutrality was to institute a law to prevent the potential bad practices that often occur because of monopolistic control that was widely experienced during the Industrial Gilded Age. Now, net neutrality didn’t prevent monopolistic control but rather established a government-endorsed agreement that could actually allow internet giants to become “too big to fail” as long as they didn’t get caught conducting any of the three defined practices outlined in net neutrality without first publishing their intentions.
The reality is that the pros and cons of a net neutrality decision are far more extensive than just ensuring a common denominator of network access guidelines.
For instance, establishing laws to prevent bad things from potentially happening can also inadvertently curtail some creative innovations from coming to market in a timely manner. It can also establish barriers of entry because established companies that helped craft legislation are often the biggest beneficiaries by creating market conditions that make it more challenging for startups.
It’s important to recognize that FCC-based rules can now be changed by a five-person, continually evolving and non-elected committee; whereas, legislation becomes official law via congress and officially signed by the executive branch. Congressional laws by design are slow because they must be deliberated by elected representatives.
Many people credit the genesis of “net neutrality ” to Tim Wu’s 2003 paper “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination.” Wu has authored many papers and has made significant contributions to help shape antitrust and wireless communication policies. Wu’s 2003 paper deliberated on the neutrality of communication networks in terms of neutrality between applications, as well as neutrality between data and Quality of Service sensitive traffic. Wu considered three approaches. One of which evolved into the net neutrality law passed by the FCC in 2015.
Net neutrality was the first non-legislative attempt to address. Tim Wu’s paper also outlines the pros and cons of options 1 and 2. Our next blog in this series will look at the various successes and failures to establish legislative control over communication networks. This will provide insight into what type of new legislation you can expect to replace net neutrality.
This is the first of a three-part blog series that explains the fundamentals and potential opportunities now that the FCC is deregulating broadband communication services by eliminating the net neutrality rules as of December 14, 2017.