AJOC EDITORIAL: Net neutrality fight misses the bigger problem

  • Lindsay Chestnut of Baltimore holds a sign as she protests near the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., where the FCC was scheduled to meet and vote on net neutrality. (Photo/Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The May 16 vote in the U.S. Senate to reverse the Federal Communications Commission repeal of “net neutrality” rules produced a split from Alaska’s delegation with Sen. Lisa Murkowski joining 49 Democrats and Sen. Dan Sullivan voting with his Republican colleagues.

The Democrats’ rare victory in the Senate was a small one, however, as there is not support in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives or from President Donald Trump, who appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, to restore the 2015 net neutrality rules.

Democrats want to make a campaign issue out of net neutrality with tech-savvy millennials by portraying it as a battle of David vs. Goliath with giant internet service providers in one corner and would-be innovators supposedly in danger of being throttled or blocked in the other.

In fact, net neutrality boils down to a battle of Goliath vs. Goliath with the ISPs facing off against the dominant content providers known as FANG: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google.

According to Canadian bandwidth management systems vendor Sandvine, those four companies combine to take up some 56 percent percent of all internet traffic during peak periods, with Netflix taking the lion’s share of that number at about 36 percent. Next up is YouTube, owned by Google, at about 15 percent.

Netflix had become such a bandwidth hog by 2014 that ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon started slowing down its streaming video; that forced Netflix to sign deals with them to pay a toll so its customers could enjoy faster speeds.

Those deals were voided under the 2015 net neutrality rules that required all traffic to be treated the same regardless of whether it was a blogger or a corporate behemoth like Netflix with 125 million customers.

That was a huge win for content providers who were able to go back to free-riding on the infrastructure built by the ISPs while continuing to charge customers for the services they provide over that same infrastructure.

In practice, so far as the content providers are concerned, net neutrality is akin to “highway neutrality” if all road traffic was treated the same regardless of weight, length, value, etc. Of course we all understand that not all road traffic causes the same impact and therefore users pay different fees, tolls, taxes and the like.

Google doesn’t pay anything for using about one-sixth of the available bandwidth during peak hours, but it definitely charges for YouTube TV and for ad placements on that content flowing through the ISPs.

Netflix is using more than a third of the available broadband and likewise pays nothing for the privilege while raking in billions per month in subscriber revenue.

If anything leads to “throttling” of internet speeds it would be two companies who are using almost half of the available bandwidth.

The fears of ISPs throttling or blocking content are overblown to be sure, but speaking of net “neutrality,” does anyone believe companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter are “neutral”?

Google manipulates search results. Facebook and Twitter have gotten into the speech censorship business by blocking users and the practice of “shadowbanning.”

The corporate leadership and culture of these companies are overwhelmingly, outwardly, proudly, left-wing in nature.

They are by far the dominant platforms for search and social interactions and there is no shortage of incidences of them using their clout for ideological purposes.

In 2012, President Barack Obama’s reelection team was praised for its ability to microtarget voters by scraping data from millions of Facebook profiles, and the company did nothing about it. In 2016, that became a scandal when Cambridge Analytica did the same thing on behalf of then-candidate Trump.

YouTube has “demonetized” conservative users; Facebook curtailed the page for the popular duo of African-American Trump fans Diamond and Silk; Twitter similarly polices progressive speech far more loosely than it does that of the right.

So-called “net neutrality” does nothing to address the lack of neutrality when it comes to political speech exhibited by the Silicon Valley titans who claim to be for a free and open internet with them as champions of open public platforms. They have revealed themselves to be anything but.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
05/30/2018 - 11:39am

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