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Our Net Neutrality Comments To The FCC: We Changed Our Mind, You Can Too


Earlier today, we published Mike Godwin's excellent post about why why everyone should file a comment with the FCC about their views on net neutrality (and, again, we highly recommend reading Gigi Sohn's excellent advice on what to include in your comment if you do). I see a lot of comments on that post with the defeatist and cynical response of "it doesn't matter, Pai's already decided what he's going to do."

This is self-defeating, dumb and wrong for a variety of reasons. First, everyone was saying the same damn thing about Tom Wheeler three years ago, and that turned out to be wrong. Despite being a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries, and his initial indications that his proposed rules would be weak and allow all sorts of mischief, Wheeler was eventually convinced to go in a different direction. Second, this goes beyond just this current FCC. Even if (as is widely expected) Pai ignores these comments and reclassifies broadband anyway, there is still a court case that will follow -- as well as Congress considering what to do. In both cases, having strong, clearly thought out arguments concerning net neutrality on the record that we can show Pai ignored will help possibly stop Pai's plan from moving forward. Pai is not the end of the story.

Third: it's the right thing to do. This is a chance to make your voice heard and participate in the process -- and you should take advantage of that. If you don't, and then you whine about how no one listens to you and how the bureaucrats and politicians don't pay attention to the people -- then you are a big part of the problem. You have a chance to weigh in here and you should.

With that said, below is what I just submitted to the FCC. My comments talk about how we, as a company, have relied on an open internet, but also why the existing rules have shown real promise in increasing competition. But, more important, it also discusses why I changed my mind on this issue. Many people here -- even long term readers -- may forget that in the mid-2000s, Techdirt was against having official open internet rules, either via Congress or the FCC. We were afraid that these rules would be bad and harmful. We worried that they would be written in a way that would stifle internet innovation. And, most importantly, we felt that they were missing the point: that the true problem was the lack of competition in broadband access. If there was a real focus on competition, net neutrality would fade away as a problem, as there would be competitive reasons to keep the internet open.

But, as we note in our comment, over the past couple decades things have changed. We've seen less and less competition, and now near-total domination of the broadband market by a few players. Even worse, those players have long histories of anti-consumer behavior and have repeatedly made it clear that they wish to end some of the basic principles of the open internet in order to put in place additional toll booths, charging extra to successful internet companies for merely carrying traffic. Finally, with the rules of 2015, we've seen a decrease in bad behavior by internet providers -- such as throttling Netflix upstream via interconnection disputes (even though that's not technically a part of the open internet rules). Similarly, we've seen that the new rules have inspired third parties like Sonic and Ting to increase their competitive broadband buildouts.

Given all of that, while we're generally worried about any kind of "regulation" for the internet, this was a case where the market had clearly failed to deliver a truly competitive and innovative market, and light touch rules as blessed by multiple courts under a Title II regime clearly made sense, and they have been working for the past two years. Changing that now makes no sense. And if we could change our mind concerning such rules, so can the current FCC.


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