The one takeaway from the Mueller Report is that an internet that was designed to add resiliency to communications can be turned into a medium that supported a campaign designed to dupe millions of American voters. Has it become that easy to make the American electorate gullible?
Last March, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, made an argument for dismantling three of the internet’s biggest portal companies: Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Ms. Warren asserts that these companies have too much power over the private lives of Americans as well as over the economy. Through their economic and political behavior, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have, according to Ms. Warren, have stifled the ability of smaller players to enter and innovate in the internet markets.
Elizabeth Warren’s Argument
Ms. Warren asserts that Amazon, Facebook, and Google use two strategies to create dominance on the internet. The first strategy is the use of mergers by large internet portals to effectively eliminate competition. Under this strategy, Amazon, Facebook, and Google buy out their competition, at times, according to Ms. Warren, at a discounted price.
The second strategy used by internet portals is to create proprietary marketplaces to limit or eliminate competition. Under this scenario, a portal like Amazon creates a competitive product for sale on its website and uses its scale to price out a competitive product that is also offered for sale on Amazon’s website.
Ms. Warren believes this dominance can be addressed by by taking two steps. First, portals such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google would be designated as platform utilities. This means that Facebook would have to divest itself of a service provider that competes with other service providers that use Facebook’s platform to connect to its consumers.
The Problem with Ms Warren’s Approach
Ms. Warren’s approach is similar to the regulatory approach used in the 1990s where local telephone companies that wanted to provide toll services beyond their local areas had to set up separate subsidiaries. The two differences between the telecom scenario of the 1990s and Ms. Warren’s platform utility model is that telecoms didn’t have to divest these companies, but operated them separately.
More important, these telecom companies were still utilities exercising monopoly control of local service areas. Until 1996, their local rates were still regulated and they still needed permission to add certain local services. Their monopoly power resulted from the inefficiencies that would occur from multiple firms trying to provide the same telecommunications services in limited geographic space. Monopoly power granted by the state to these firms was the response by the State to the problems occurring from congestion.
The Open Internet Eliminates Monopoly Power
Amazon, Facebook, and Google, for all their dominance in the e-commerce space operate in the open internet. In the open internet, any firm or other association of individuals with the right search algorithms, expert technical knowledge, and adequate capital, can set up servers almost anywhere in the world, and start a competing service or carve out a niche portal service. The internet’s technical openness is rivaled only by its global nature. Amazon, Facebook, Google may be dominant in the American e-commerce market, but constant regulatory threats by the European Union and hostility to them from China reduces their perceived dominance. Ms. Warren has not shown how these firms can dominate a global network of 100,000 interconnected computers that operate on an open architecture.
Internet Portals are Not Utilities
It should also be mentioned that the internet itself is not a utility. In 2015, Federal Communications Commission member Michael O’Rielly made this point during a speech. Mr. O’Rielly said the following:
“It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right. … People do a disservice by overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives. People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives. It is even more ludicrous to compare Internet access to a basic human right. In fact, it is quite demeaning to do so in my opinion.”
When we think of utilities, we think of monopolies that, due to their efficient delivery of vital services such as water and energy, are granted an exclusive market within which to provide those services. As alluded to earlier, because of the open nature of the internet and its global reach, it is near impossible for one firm to have an exclusive market, unless a government decides to grant it, and that move would be irrational because government exclusivity would block the very cross-border data flows facilitated by an open internet.
Acquisition of Apps and Brick and Mortar Stores by an Internet Portal Does Not Create Monopolies
The second step Ms. Warren would take to squelch internet portal dominance would be to designate regulators that would prevent Amazon, Facebook, or Google from merging with other firms and thus eliminating competition. She provides a couple examples: Facebook and WhatsApp; Google and Waze; Amazon and Whole Foods. There are two problems with her examples and the conclusion that these “mergers” are not competitive.
First, these were not mergers but acquisitions. Two information portals, Facebook and Google, acquired two information assets. Given the services these assets provide, Facebook and Google made the business judgment that adding these services to their portfolios made sense from a services and revenue perspective. Amazon, first and foremost an online retailer, added a retail food service from which Amazon’s subscribers could purchase groceries at a discount.
Ms. Warren failed to argue how Facebook’s ownership of a messaging service keeps other firms from developing their own messaging service. She failed to explain how Google’s acquisition of Waze keeps other technology firms from creating an app that provides drivers with directions. Ms. Warren also fails to show how Amazon is keeping, say Kroger, from creating its own grocery delivery service.
It would be one thing to say that these firms monopolized physical infrastructure to the point where other firms would see increasing costs of entry, but the internet’s openness, combined with access to technical talent and expertise and cheap capital means that the assets purchased by Amazon, Facebook, and Google are themselves subject to competition.
Conclusion: Internet Openness and its Global Nature Keeps Monopoly Power in Check
The open and global nature of the internet combined with access to expertise, talent, and cheap capital works to mitigate monopoly behavior. As technology evolves and entrepreneurs innovate, the services rivaling WhatsApp, Waze, or even Facebook will emerge. Given the current make-up of the Congress and the low probability of Elizabeth Warren winning the Democratic nomination, the likelihood of her proposals being enacted via law or administrative fiat is close to zero. This does not mean that internet portals concerned about this type of overreach should stay less than vigilant in preparing to push back against them.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats today announced introduction of the Save the Internet Act, legislation that would repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom order and replace the 2017 order with the Commission’s 2015 Open Internet order. Speaker Pelosi’s rationale for replacing the 2017 order with the 2015 order includes:
- Lowering costs and increasing choice for consumers;
- Giving entrepreneurs a level playing field on which to compete;
- Helping bring broadband to every corner of the country; and
- Ensuring American innovation and entrepreneurialism can continue to be the envy of the world.
From a banking and trade perspective, the rationale offered by the Democrats for repealing the current set of net neutrality rules at the Commission sounds good. Lowering the cost for accessing an information trading platform provides the benefit of reducing information discovery costs. Bringing broadband to every corner does increase the chances of network effects taking hold where the value of a network increases as more traders use it. As network effects increase, more data traders and content providers will be encouraged to carve out more niches on the internet and provide data consumers more options for content sources.
But what was blatant from an economics perspective was the total lack of discussion in the bill itself about how an advanced communications infrastructure underpins the economy; its role as part of a three-layered infrastructure that has supported the exchange of value since the earliest days of trade between small communities. At issue here is, in terms of trade, does the Save the Internet Act facilitate trade? My answer is no and the failure is due in large put to a number of mistakes driven more by politics than economics.
Mistake: Believing the Internet is About Democracy. It is Not.
The classic argument from the Democrats is that a free and open internet is great for American democracy; that gateway keepers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon should not be allowed to prevent citizens from expressing themselves via broadband. But is accessing content via a communications technology the same as expressing thought via voice, graphics, and text over that medium?
I can buy and read a newspaper but it is not the same as sending letters to the editor or leaving comments online. If democracy is about expression, then there are plenty of examples where expression is limited in the private sector, and we should not forget that core providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, and edge providers, such as Facebook and Netflix, are private companies providing the data collection, data distribution, and data access that creates value on the internet.
Could Americans in their zeal for unfettered access to the internet as a digital medium for exchanging value and communications be conflating corporate power with government power? Building on the earlier point, democracy is about the relationship between citizens and government. Democracy is about the limits citizen and government agree to.
Democracy recognizes, at least in theory, that the State has a resources advantage that can be used to oppress the individual, thus preventing her from trading for and consuming resources necessary for daily survival. This imbalance in power is why democracy, again in theory, allows the citizen to express herself in the ballot box by choosing the representatives that are supposed to keep government at bay.
Unless core and edge providers have some agency relationship with government that puts them in a position to bring down the power of government on the citizenry, then corporation is in no position to stifle democracy.
Mistake: Congress Does Not Understand the Relationship Between Corporation and Government.
Corporations are not chartered by governments (state or federal) to protect consumer rights. Corporations are expected by government to create taxable events. They are expected to hire labor and apply capital in order to extract and process resources in such a way that they become deliverable for end use consumption. Both wages paid to labor and purchases are taxed in order to fill government coffers. To maximize taxable events, corporations must come up with more revenue streams or innovate the packaging and sales of product in order to create additional demand.
In the case of broadband access providers, they see an information services market that they would like to play in so that they can increase shareholder wealth. Competing with Facebook and Google allows these companies to create additional revenue streams that can be used not only to increase their shareholders’ wealth but, as mentioned above, generate taxes that go into government coffers. In short, government shoots itself in the foot by disallowing broadband access providers to not enter the content market.
The Democrats’ two-page legislation will not bring any improvement to a communications infrastructure that provides support for trade and commerce in the United States. It keeps broadband access providers out of the information markets, eliminating incentives for broadband access providers to expand their service offerings.
I am seeing more homeless people in my West End Atlanta neighborhood. I have seen at least one sleeping in his vehicle. Others make use of the parks to sleep at night. What I see on the ground does not coincide with the claims made in Washington of a booming economy.
WABE, citing data collected from the city of Atlanta, reported that the homeless population numbers around 3,000 people and is allegedly on a decline. And last year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Atlanta ranks among America’s neediest cities based on 21 metrics including child poverty and the number of uninsured. Homelessness is the result of a number of factors including the lack of affordable housing, poverty, discrimination, and shifts in the economy. Can city policies adequately impact these factors?
Take the factor of affordable housing. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has made affordable housing one of her top public policies, but it appears to me that such an approach falls out of line with one important goal of a city: to generate tax revenue necessary for providing the amenities that keep citizens interested in living in Atlanta. Land owners want to see property values rise and see an increase in the revenues that their properties generate.
Also, as city leaders continue their efforts to make Atlanta a job center, they have to keep in mind that as part of the efficiencies offered by a city is the location of housing close to job centers. Housing located close to job centers may also end up being some of the most costliest housing.
I ride into Buckhead every day from southwest Atlanta. I have blogged before about how the MARTA train feels more like those conveyor belts loaded with coal that go into a furnace to fuel a production facility. In this case the human coal are the lower and middle income individuals heading into Buckhead to work a job that, ironically, may be on the chopping block in a few years due to artificial intelligence. If these people can’t afford to live close to an employment center where they can walk to work, the pressures of living will really increase when they have to find alternative employment.
But even with current employment, there may not be enough affordable housing available because landlords will be under pressure to meet rising property taxes resulting from the increased values of their properties, at least in the short run. This rise in value and ensuing property taxes will result from increased demand for housing that Atlanta expects to face over the next ten years.
Let’s not forget the upward pressure expected on interest rates over the next two years. Property owners will have to increase rents in order to cover higher mortgage rates. For the city of Atlanta it means higher bond servicing costs as the city continues to raise money through bond issues for its development and operational needs.
Affordable housing, because of the above pressures, won’t increase in supply. Only an economic downturn may bring about cheaper rentals but even that will be short lived because a downturn in the economy means a slowdown in hiring and the specter of non-affordability due to increased lost income.
Politics wise, it is time for elected officials, particularly Democrats, to eliminate the affordable housing mantra from their campaign slogans. They won’t be able to achieve it at any meaningful scale.
Internet Innovation Alliance co-founder Bruce Mehlman posted an article yesterday discussing the positive impact relaxed regulatory requirements can have on investment in and deployment of broadband networks. According to Mr. Mehlman, investment in broadband rose by $1.5 billion to $76.3 billion. He contrasts this to the $3.2 billion decline in investment between 2015 and 2016.
What made the difference? According to Mr. Mehlman it was the decision last year by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal their 2015 open internet order, a decision that put into regulatory code a number of net neutrality principles. The 2015 order treated broadband access providers as telephone companies by applying consumer and telephone network management rules that were based on communications law from the 1930s. That approach, according to Mr. Mehlman, just can’t fly in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, Washington has been embroiled in a debate over how net neutrality principles should be applied. There is a consensus among opponents to and proponents of net neutrality principles that consumers should be able to access web content of their choice; that content providers should not have their traffic speeds throttled by broadband access providers; and that broadband access providers should be transparent about the terms and conditions of their services. Whether a rule by a regulatory agency is the best approach to ensuring these policy goals is an issue.
Getting to yes on net neutrality may be best brought about by an action of Congress. Defining net neutrality in the law and laying out the components of its meaning will give content providers and broadband access providers definitive guideposts that help settle any conflicts in the future. Without a congressional action, the industry and consumers run the risk of a back and forth regulatory battle driven by changes in political power, particularly when a new presidential administration takes over and a new chairman is appointed. That type of uncertainty every four years is not good for consumers or business.
As more people and businesses move to Atlanta, regulatory certainty becomes an asset for the person who telecommutes; for the financial technology company that needs to maintain connection to its app subscribers; to the student who relies on distance learning to complete assignments.
Treating a broadband provider facing competition from three or four more broadband providers as if they were a monopoly local telephone company in 1934 won’t contribute to Atlanta’s continued growth.
Last July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal of a U.S. District Court-District of the District of Columbia finding that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner Media would not hurt competition. The Justice Department, according to The Hill, believes the acquisition would harm competition where AT&T might not provide access to its newly acquired content by other competing content providers or video delivery networks.
Democrats today hinted that once they take-over the U.S. House, they would investigate the Trump administration’s opposition to the merger. Since the campaign for the presidency in 2016, Mr. Trump has verbalized his concern that a merger between the telecommunications giant and the media giant would be a bad thing because of the size of the new entity. In addition, Mr. Trump has expressed no love for CNN, the cable news network that would be one of the crown jewels on AT&T’s new portfolio.
As if any one needed a reminder of the no love lost between the Trump administration and the Atlanta-based news organization, one needed look no further than the spat between CNN’s Jim Acosta and President Trump during a press conference last week. Mr. Trump had no problem suspending Mr. Acosta’s access to the White House.
Congressional Democrats have attacked the merger from the net neutrality angle. Democrats such as Senator Ed Markey have come out against the merger in part due to antitrust and consumer protection reasons. According to Senator Markey, telecommunications policy should ensure that, ” … those with the best ideas, not simply the best access, can share their content with the world.”
But given that net neutrality was not at the top of voters’ holiday shopping list last week, I don’t expect Democrats to approach the Trump administration with anything that looks like a temporary truce. According to analysisanalysis by Gizmodo, a sweep of 1,180 campaign websites saw very few office seekers trumpeting the call for a free and open internet. Real household issues, such as healthcare and the economy, were on the top of family priorities.
I’ve read analysis where it is expected that outgoing Republicans licking their wounds from their 2018 defeat will vote to approve the resolution that passed last May in the U.S. Senate to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom order. This order, passed in 2017 by the Commission, repealed a 2015 Commission order that implemented net neutrality rules. The argument is that outgoing GOP congressmen who probably leaned toward the open internet philosophy would want to appease their former constituents by supporting net neutrality rules. I don’t see that happening.
I expect that outgoing Republicans will pay attention to whatever housekeeping matters are on the agenda, including tomorrow’s testimony by Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell before the House financial services committee. Besides, why would a GOP former congressman want to relieve themselves of their conservative bona fides so early after an election. You just don’t relieve yourself so quickly of political capital that you will need for any future political endeavors.
According to economist Dambisa Moyo in her book, Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth and How to Fix It, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and that number is rising. In this Bloomberg podcast, Stephanie Flanders provides some insights into the inequality brewing in urban areas while at the same time serving as a hub for attracting workers seeking higher incomes.
In the podcast, Ms.. Flanders uses Delhi, Mumbai, and other cities in India as case studies for urban population and economic growth, the problems with governance, and income and wealth inequality. I don’t have to travel to south central Asia to witness inequality. Living in Atlanta I see inequality everyday where a significant population of Blacks and Latinos take the train into Atlanta’s core to go to work. Cranes are everywhere downtown as the city continues to put up new office and residential buildings.
And just this evening, Atlanta’s city council heard over seven hours of public comment before approving a proposed project that would turn 40 acres of downtown space into a complex of residential and commercial space.
The concerns about inequality have leaked into public policy proposals, including promises in 2017 by then mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms to increase the amount of affordable housing in Atlanta. Today, Mrs. Bottoms is mayor and, to her credit, has made affordable housing the tip of her economic development spear. Late last evening Mayor Bottoms scored big in persuading Atlanta’s city council to approve the $5 billion project. One condition of project approval was for developers to set aside a required minimum affordable housing units of 20% or 200, whichever is larger.
I think even with these efforts, Atlanta is on its way to being unaffordable for middle income residents. Buckhead, Midtown, and soon downtown will be out of reach for the middle class. Even residential areas in the southwest and southeast quadrants of the city may be unaffordable for an increasing number of residents as people moving back into the city with either sufficient capital or credit have been able to take advantage of low rates and purchase homes in the West End, Westview, and Adair Park sections of the city.
What should Atlanta policymakers do? Nothing. A tax and income redistribution scheme may only provide very short term relief to the middle income populace. Higher property taxes would threaten housing values and give homeowners second thoughts about maintaining residence in Atlanta. Requiring developers to set aside affordable units for each of their projects can only go so far given the limit on the number of appropriate projects in the first place.
As Ms. Flanders points out in her podcast, municipalities in the United States may have a bit more independence and flexibility to effect affordable housing policy but eventually the market for housing, available capital, and credit markets will limit the availability of units overall and affordable housing in particular making urbanization a difficult environment for the middle class.
Donald Trump has shown no shyness when it comes to lamenting his regrets. When those regrets take the form of personnel, he fires them. Over the past 48 hours, Mr. Trump has been expressing his frustration with current Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell. Mr. Powell has been on a rate raising course since his appointment earlier this year and Mr. Trump believes that, setting aside what he perceives as Mr. Powell’s enjoyment, that this is not the time, given the advances in the economy and the stock market, for rate increases that may dampen or slow down the Trump Effect.
The textbook logic behind the Federal Reserve’s rate increases is to control the growth in asset values. Assets serve as collateral for borrowing and lending money. If a potential lender sees an opportunity to lend $1,000,000 at 5% and has a portfolio of assets valued at $1.5 million, it will use its $1.5 million in assets to borrow the $1 million at say 2% and lend those funds out at 5%, and with all things equal, bring home a net return of 3%.
If the Federal Reserve believes that discipline is in order, it will raise the rates at which banks borrow from each other overnight. It may also raise the rates on the funds that banks leave on deposit with the Federal Reserve. Both moves are designed to keep potential loanable funds out of the system, making money scarce and more expensive to find. Also, higher rates, because of their inverse relationship with asset prices, result in asset values falling. This means that banks, businesses, and individuals will receive less funding because the collateral they have has lessened in value.
Increases in rates threaten wealth growth and consumption. With the advent of modern central banking, nation-states have transformed into payment systems where taxes are collected, interest payments made to bond holders, and budgets used by politicians to bribe voters are financed.
It is the role of government to ensure the political-financial payment system operates at maximum. Rates should stay low to encourage borrowing and investing. Deficits should be eliminated resulting in less pressure to increase interest rates in order to attract purchasers of Treasury notes and lower rates for borrowers in the private sector.
Mr. Trump, unlike most of his critics and I dare say most central bankers, has a better understanding of this reality.
Artificial intelligence has the capability of creating another resource that can be optimized or consumed by a nation-state. Increases in computing power and better designed algorithms along with access to increasing amounts of data translates into an increased amount of information that can be extracted via machine learning.
Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer postulates that a nation’s prosperity is a function of the rate at which we solve problems. If he is correct, then problem solving requires that we maximize the amount of available information to find the best answer.
If information is the jet fuel for a Fourth Industrial Revolution economy, data is the oil that has to be extracted and refined. Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google are using machine learning to provide better customer and subscriber experiences with their product. They are among the largest of the data miners. Their efforts, along with those of other technology companies is expected to contribute to economic growth beyond a baseline (no-artificial intelligence) scenario.
For example, Accenture reports that labor will see an increase in productivity of 35% by the year 2035 due to the application of artificial intelligence. Annual growth rates in value added to gross domestic product are approximated at 4.6% by 2035. With capital and labor (due to a cap on the capacity of cognitive ability) reaching their limits as contributors to increased economic growth, artificial intelligence, taking its place along capital, labor, and entrepreneurship as a factor of production, is expected to help the economy exceed its current limits in three ways:
- Automating physical tasks as a result of artificial intelligence’s ability to self-learn;
- Augmenting labor by giving labor the opportunity to focus on creativity, imagination, and innovation; and
- Diffusing innovation through the economy.
With these promises of growth comes the fear on the part of labor that artificial intelligence will eliminate the need for a substantial portion of current jobs. Even while experts and academics tout artificial intelligence as a complement to labor; as an augmenter of labor’s cognitive skills, there is still the fear that this emerging technology will create a valueless human workforce. This perception creates a dilemma for a government that sees democracy under the attack globally. Is artificial intelligence going to exclude millions in the name of efficiency? If so, what use is there from participating equally in an electoral process of the economy leaves you out?
Government will have to prepare a messaging campaign if it is to maintain its legitimacy as a distributor of economic equity in the face of an increasingly digitized economy and society. The potential destructive nature of artificial intelligence is scarier than what has been presented in movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Terminator.” Immediate benefits of artificial intelligence may flow first to those who already have high tech skills or hold or have access to great amounts of capital. In other words, AI is the ultimate nail in the coffin for the capital gap. Those with access to or control of capital will only see their control over the data and information that feeds it get larger. If you can’t process data or package useful information, you are nonexistent. Just useless furniture. It won’t be some AI robot that kills you off. It will be a human with money and enhanced cognitive skills that decide we are valueless.
As Erik Brynjolfsson, Xiang Hui, and Meng Liu pointed out last month in an article for The Washington Post last month, “No economic law guarantees that productivity growth benefits everyone equally. Unless we thoughtfully manage the transition, some people, even a majority, are vulnerable to being left behind even as others reap billions.”
As Professor Yuri Harari notes, technology is not deterministic, however. It is people who make decisions as to how their political economy will shift and change. Brynjolfsson, Hui, and Liu note that voters need to urge policymakers to “invest in research that will design approaches to human learning for an era of machine learning.”
The evidence does not show that policymakers are being prodded to move on the issue of artificial intelligence. Not surprising since voters are not knowledgeable about the issue either. Artificial intelligence is not on the top of any poll responses from voters. As regards to Congress, the only major action has been companion bills S.2217 and HR4625 where Congress wants the Secretary of Commerce to establish a federal advisory committee on the development and implementation of artificial intelligence. While the bills provide good working definitions of artificial intelligence and machine learning and has among its concerns economic productivity, job growth, and labor displacement, allowing a bill to sit in committee for ten months is not the kind of speedy intelligence that artificial intelligence needs to be complemented by.
Last weekend, the State of California upped the ante in the net neutrality debate when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 822, a bill that put into California law net neutrality requirements that were contained in the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 Open Internet Order, a set of rules that were later repealed by the FCC in its 2017 Restore Internet Freedom Order. Section 3101(a) and Section 3101(b) of SB 822 provide the core element of the legislation and reads as follows:
“3101. (a) It shall be unlawful for a fixed Internet service provider, insofar as the provider is engaged in providing fixed broadband Internet access service, to engage in any of the following activities:
(1) Blocking lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.
(2) Impairing or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or use of a nonharmful device, subject to reasonable network management.
(3) Requiring consideration, monetary or otherwise, from an edge provider, including, but not limited to, in exchange for any of the following:
(A) Delivering Internet traffic to, and carrying Internet traffic from, the Internet service provider’s end users.
(B) Avoiding having the edge provider’s content, application, service, or nonharmful device blocked from reaching the Internet service provider’s end users.
(C) Avoiding having the edge provider’s content, application, service, or nonharmful device impaired or degraded.
(4) Engaging in paid prioritization.
(5) Engaging in zero-rating in exchange for consideration, monetary or otherwise, from a third party.
(6) Zero-rating some Internet content, applications, services, or devices in a category of Internet content, applications, services, or devices, but not the entire category.
(7) (A) Unreasonably interfering with, or unreasonably disadvantaging, either an end user’s ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of the end user’s choice, or an edge provider’s ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. Reasonable network management shall not be a violation of this paragraph.
(B) Zero-rating Internet traffic in application-agnostic ways shall not be a violation of subparagraph (A) provided that no consideration, monetary or otherwise, is provided by any third party in exchange for the Internet service provider’s decision whether to zero-rate traffic.
(8) Failing to publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of those services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.
(9) Engaging in practices, including, but not limited to, agreements, with respect to, related to, or in connection with, ISP traffic exchange that have the purpose or effect of evading the prohibitions contained in this section and Section 3102. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to prohibit Internet service providers from entering into ISP traffic exchange agreements that do not evade the prohibitions contained in this section and Section 3102.
(b) It shall be unlawful for a mobile Internet service provider, insofar as the provider is engaged in providing mobile broadband Internet access service, to engage in any of the activities described in paragraphs (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), and (9) of subdivision (a).”
Political actors that favor the FCC’s implementation of net neutrality rules have managed in the past to endear their position to the public by describing efforts opposing the rules as a barrier to freedom of expression. Net neutrality rules proponents argue that internet service providers have a financial incentive to use their positions as gateways to internet access to favor their content over that of edge providers. Favoring ISP content may take the form of throttling data coming from a favored website or blocking a consumer’s access to their favorite website.
Net neutrality rules proponents would also argue that even if their access to a website was not blocked or data from their favorite website not slowed down, the receipt by an ISP of compensation in exchange for giving an edge provider higher priority of their traffic may mean that smaller content providers are put at a disadvantage compared to larger content providers with deeper pockets.
Opponents of putting net neutrality into an agency rule would agree that the principles of net neutrality should be adhered to. However, as network operators, ISPs argue that they cannot afford to devalue their networks by frustrating consumer access to internet content. The internet has grown in use and popularity as a result of the “network effect” where as more consumers use the internet, the demand for and supply of content and other services increases thus increasing the value of an operator’s network. In the end, blocking, throttling, or prioritizing content would only work against the network operator.
Often overlooked in the net neutrality debate is the global nature of the internet. Facebook users, for example, take for granted that most of the social network’s subscribers are not located in the United States and that we all access a network of interconnected computers located in multiple countries. The traffic you receive can come from a number of jurisdictions before landing on your computer.
Ironically, California leads the way in North America when it comes to internet traffic density. According to data from Akami, California accounts for 5.1% of traffic flows in North America. Statista.com reports that internet traffic in North America amounts to 1,411,021 terabytes a month. This means that California’s approximate share is 71,962 terabytes a month.
And the amount of internet traffic flowing is expected to continue increasing. According to findings by Cisco, internet traffic is expected to increase by 278 exabytes a month by 2021. As gateways for internet traffic, ISPs concerned about managing congested networks may want to employ a time honored method of congestion management: price, and this method of determining where resources flow is what is really being kept in check by SB 822.
SB 822 prohibits ISPs from charging content providers for the handing off of edge provider traffic. It is ironic that proponents of these rules on the one hand support the notion of regulating broadband providers like telephone companies, but prohibit the very practice telephone companies have used to recover a portion of their network costs. As internet traffic increases along with the costs for delivering traffic, would proponents prefer ISPs increase the prices the end use consumer pays while providing edge providers with free content? If this is the case, then net neutrality proponents in California, many of whom are unwittingly support keeping edge provider costs low, may find accessing information on the internet less affordable.