I have stopped counting how many times advocates for net neutrality have changed the definition of the open network concept over the past four years. Yesterday Mike Masnick wrote a piece for TechDirt.com arguing that net neutrality actually refers to a broadband provider charging a content provider to deliver content to the broadband provider and then turning around and charging the content provider again for delivering content to the consumer. Mr. Masnick also argued that net neutrality proponents have no problem with different tiers of service speeds for consumers because the advocates understand that tiered data service is modus operendi for the broadband industry.
In fairness to Mr. Masnick, here are his exact words:
“The actual concern is not about that. It’s about the broadband providers then turning around and doing a massive double dip. That is, even if you’ve, say, purchased an access plan with certain speeds and the internet companies have purchased their access and bandwidth at their own speeds, the broadband companies want to also be able to go to those internet services and charge them again to reach you at the level both of you have already paid for. Basically, they’re arguing that when you buy internet access, you’re merely buying the right to reach from your end of the network to the middle. And that’s it. They’re saying you haven’t bought the right to reach service providers’ end points. So, what they want to do is get the internet service providers to pay a second time to “reach you” rather than just the middle. And, if they don’t, they may degrade or even block access.”
What? Really? Weren’t these very advocates railing against caps on speed, disputing wireless carrier claims that managing costs necessitated different service tiers? Let’s look back at some of the past definitions of net neutrality.
First, here is the Federal Communications Commission’s take on net neutrality:
“The ‘Open Internet’ is the Internet as we know it, a level playing field where consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use, and where consumers are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others. ”
To clarify the open Internet and net neutrality, the FCC says:
“Network, or “net,” neutrality is just another way of referring to Open Internet principles.” And just what are those principles? Again, according to the FCC:
1. Transparency: Broadband providers must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and the commercial terms of their broadband services;
2. No Blocking: Fixed broadband providers (such as DSL, cable modem or fixed wireless providers) may not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services;
3. No Unreasonable Discrimination: Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. The no blocking and no unreasonable discrimination rules are subject to limited exceptions for “reasonable network management.”
I guess the FCC will make changes to their principles some time soon, but right now, the rules make no reference to or prohibition on Mr. Masnick’s “double dipping” scenario. But since Mr. Masnick has issues with FCC data, let’s look at the definition of net neutrality as offered by Free Press:
What keeps the Internet open is Net Neutrality — the longstanding principle that preserves our right to communicate freely online. This is the definition of an open Internet.
“Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of online content and apps. It guarantees a level playing field for all websites and Internet technologies.
Net Neutrality is the reason the Internet has driven online economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech. It protects our right to use any equipment, content, application or service without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher-quality service and which to demote to a slower lane.”
I don’t see any reference to double dipping in Free Press’ definition either, and they have been defining net neutrality this way since 2010. Any doubts about the validity of net neutrality is generated by the lack of a definition of the rule as offered by these advocates. Anyway, their position on what net neutrality is when it comes to regulating broadband providers is of no consequence. What matters are the FCC’s rules, and since their rules do not address double dipping, so what if it occurs. If content providers want to get their information to consumers, this is the toll that they will have to pay.
But to flip the script on the double dipping concept, isn’t double dipping the legacy network pricing mechanism that advocates like Free Press and Mr. Masnick are arguing for? The legacy network saw long distance companies being charged a fee upon accessing a local telephone company’s network, and then another fee for terminating the call at the consumer’s point of presence. These are the same Title II regulations and pricing schemes that net neutrality advocates would like to remain in place for the few remaining consumers who are copper line junkies.
So, double dipping for legacy network consumers, but no double dipping for content providers on digital networks. Net neutrality advocates should keep their confusion to themselves.