In his 2015 open internet order, former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler argued for a seamless internet that promotes a virtuous cycle of innovation. This seamless internet ecosystem would include every point on the internet between the end user sitting at his laptop or on his smartphone and the website from whence the end user is attempting to download information. To ensure this seamless experience, Mr Wheeler invoked the four open internet principles of transparency; no paid prioritization; no throttling of a website’s traffic; and no blocking an end user’s attempt to access the website of her choosing.
As of 11 June 2018, Mr Wheeler’s rules are no more, repealed and replaced by the Restoring Internet Freedom order issued by the Commission in December 2017. While the Restoring Internet Freedom order kept language from the open internet order that addressed transparency i.e. the public disclosure of accurate information regarding network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of service, etc., it repealed language addressing throttling of traffic from website, paid prioritization creating faster lanes for content providers, and blocking consumer access to legal websites.
The 2017 order addresses throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization concerns by providing language defining reasonable network practices. A network management practice is reasonable if it takes into account a legitimate business goal, the network’s architecture, and the technology of the broadband service. But critics of the Restoring Internet Freedom order are interpreting the repeal as authorizing ISPs to block or throttle internet traffic or allow large content providers to pay ISPS for the privilege of faster data lanes to their subscribers.
Critics can also be found in state legislatures where, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 65 pieces of legislation were offered in state legislatures that put the FCC’s 2015 rules on net neutrality into state law. Eight of these states (California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have metropolitan areas where significant Caribbean populations are located. None of these states have enacted net neutrality legislation yet. Net neutrality legislation has already failed to pass in three of these states: Georgia, Maryland, and Virginia.
I understand the idea of transparency because of the importance it plays in negotiating for broadband access services. I never understood, however, why so-called proponents of net neutrality rules were against voluntary strategic partnerships between ISPs and content providers. For example, the Caribbean has an emerging entertainment industry, one that recognizes the benefits of digitization. In the 21st century artists have to leverage the internet to get to an audience that is viewing more video traffic via mobile. Getting in front of a sizeable Caribbean immigrant audience in the United States may mean leveraging paid prioritization in order to ensure the availability of bandwidth necessary to stream video and music.
The FCC’s decision to repeal paid prioritization may benefit entertainment producers from the Caribbean in the long run. Attempts by the states to balkanize communications regulation should not be allowed.