My letter to the FCC

Computers and network

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners:

This letter is written in response to your request for comments regarding proceeding 14-28.

I want a free and open Internet in the same context as our telephone system. By this I mean I want an infrastructure that is neutral as to sending and receiving parties and the content that they share. “Network neutrality” would be better framed as “non-discrimination” just as Verizon, for example, can’t privilege Verizon phone calls over T-Mobile’s or AT&T’s.

When a Verizon customer telephones an AT&T customer, the network treats the calls as though they were on the same network: call quality is not impaired when the incoming call is from a different network. And if I choose to use my phone to call 1-900 numbers, my telephone provider should have no say in that decision nor negatively impact my call quality.

This is how the Internet should work.

When I pay Frontier Communication for FiOS, Frontier should deliver all bits to my house that I seek out and do so without discrimination at the speed I’ve paid for service. If those bits are from Netflix they should be treated exactly the same as if they were from HBO or NBC or Apple or Amazon. They should not be choked or slowed down or interfered with in any way.

Our experience is that Frontier does this even though they say that they do not. Our AppleTV  is hooked directly (via ethernet) to our Frontier regular router. It is not unusual for us to watch Netflix and discover that the video is painfully pixelated. When I switch to Netflix streamed wirelessly on my iPad, the pixelation disappears; so I use Apple’s mirroring technology to “throw” the video to my “TV” for viewing. Wifi, even at N speeds, should not trump a wired, ethernet connection.

This. Is. Wrong.

Moreover, Frontier should not be able to charge Apple or Amazon or Netflix for the privilege of sending video bits that I have paid for to my house. The content companies already pay their providers for the bandwidth that they use.

Telephone companies are regulated like common carriers. We need all infrastructure owners (cable, fiber, copper) to be considered common carriers. This would mean that they would have to lease their infrastructure to other organizations, and they would not be able discriminate based on the origin of a bit.

It would be helpful if the companies controlling the pipes into our homes weren’t also creating content that competes with other content providers. Why might Comcast want to degrade Netflix streaming? Because it competes with Comcast cable. This principle of fairness and equal access explains why 20th century regulators broke up Boeing and United Airlines, as well as why the U.S. Supreme Court made Paramount Pictures (et al) unbundle movie rentals and divest their movie theaters.

We have to separate content (the bits that represent text, photos, sound, moving pictures) from the delivery channel. That’s in part because we (society) can’t afford to have competing infrastructure: multiple “cable” or “fiber” wires on each-and-every neighborhood street. That sort of competition is economically inefficient: infrastructure is characterized by very high fixed costs and relatively low marginal costs (the cost of attaching the line to one-more-house).

And we have very next to no competition in broadband service. For example, Comcast is the dominant provider of “broadband” in 17 of our 20 largest metropolitan areas.

At my prior home in Bellevue, the choices are two:
Comcast – up to 25 MbPS, $40/month
CenturyLink – up to 7 MbPS, $30/month

At my current home in Lynnwood, the choices are two:
Comcast – up to 25 MbPS, $40/month
Frontier FiOS – up to 15 MbPS, $30/month

A duopoly does not competition make.

Consequently, the U.S. does not rank in the top 10 countries in the world based on average Internet connection speed (Akamai data from first quarter 2014).

If infrastructure ownership were decoupled from service, both should improve. As it stands, Americans pay more for less when it comes to Internet access and cellphone data plans than people in Europe and Japan. This situation will not change without government intervention.

The Internet is one of the most powerful communication tools that man has created. It brings information to the fingertips of those isolated from mammoth libraries. Do we really want that power to inform, educate and entertain go to the highest bidder?






Network Neutrality comments due Monday {!important}

netflix chart
Internet Slowdown

Coalition to support network neutrality sponsored an Internet slowdown day.

Update: My letter to the FCC

You may have noticed a spinning-wheel-of-death atop your browser last week while visiting Etsy, Kickstarter, Netflix, Reddit, Tumbler or any number of sites around the Internet.

The web site owners were raising awareness of something known as network neutrality (which should really be called network discrimination). Comments on an FCC proposal to regulate how website and email traffic moves around the Internet within the United States are due Monday.

Of course, what’s at stake is a buttload of money.

No surprise, then, that companies selling the equipment that shuffles bits around the Net are in favor of network discrimination. It means new equipment sales for them.


Why you should care

Think about telephone calls for a moment. The telephone network does not discriminate between carriers. In other words, if you are an AT&T customer and you have an incoming call from Verizon, the AT&T network has to treat the call exactly as it would if it were an internal network call. I’m not talking about pricing, I’m talking about call quality.

As an Internet consumer, you pay a provider to connect your phone, table and computer to the Net. Your Internet provider should not be able to “privilege” content (bits) from sites that it owns or “discriminate” content (bits) from sites that its competitor owns. After all, those competitors are paying their providers based on bit volume.

You’re paying to get content.

Companies are paying to send content.

Your provider should not be able to demand a toll for its competitors just so that you can receive the content you have already paid to receive.

Real world example: “television.”

Comcast owns 100% of NBCUniversal, effective last year.

Comcast provided Internet connectivity to 21 million American households at the end of 2013.

Why might Comcast want to discriminate against Netflix traffic?

Because, grasshopper, Netflix watching eats into their viewership which in turn reduces their television business advertising revenue. Comcast lost about 300,000 pay-TV subscribers in 2013.

PayTV Market Share

So is it any surprise that Comcast “discriminated” against Netflix traffic (bits) in 2013? And reversed itself when Netflix agreed to pay an additional toll to ensure its bits got delivered in a timely fashion? From the Washington Post in April:

Netflix and net neutrality

From the Washington Post

Comedian John Oliver explains:

Flawed regulatory framework

We would not be having this conversation if Internet connectivity (infrastructure) were owned separately from Internet content sites.

That’s how Europe manages it mobile telephony, for example. The companies that sell phone service are not the same companies that own and manage the cell towers. No vertical integration. It means Europeans pay less for more when it comes to cell data.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in the US, we pay more for less broadband than other countries around the world.

Global connectivity

Akamai data from first quarter 2014

Act now!

Critics (I’m one) believe the that FCC proposal would create a two-tiered Internet and thus should be rejected.

Even though current system is broken, the current FCC proposal won’t fix it. The courts have said that the FCC can’t fix it because it does not have the authority to regulate network neutrality. Only Congress can fix the system by regulating Internet access like the utility (phones, water, natural gas) that it is.

But the FCC needs to hear from as many people as possible in order to put pressure on Congress (and the White House). The comment period has been extended three times: from July 15 first to July 18 then September 10 and now to September 15. We can’t count on its being extended again.

So write the FCC (you can use if the comment form for proceeding 14-28 is broken but be sure to include in your email, your full name, and address and the proceeding number) and insist the the Net to be regulated like a utility. Demand no two-tier system.

Then call your Senators and Representatives and bend their ears, too.


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