An Open Letter to Congress: Net Neutrality Analogized

Net Neutrality

Hi Congress,

Before providing a few analogies to simplify why net neutrality should exist, I want to tell you how disappointed I am in your decision to remove the FCC rules around internet privacy.

Who am I?

I am a US citizen and do not consider myself technically incompetent. I gravitated to technology at an early age and have been formally working within the technology space for over 20 years. I have owned numerous technology companies, both in the hardware and software realms, and am well versed in the business of data. I am now Chief Strategy Officer at a technology company providing analytical tools and services for sifting through vast quantities of data.

I say this: (1) to provide some gravity to the statements I make, and (2) to offer my expertise in an advisory roll to any of you that may lack such a resource.

Disappointment: Privacy Matters

Recently, a large majority of you voted to remove the regulation of our (yourselves included) privacy with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that supply our access to the Internet. You may not have realized this, but these companies, both broadband and mobile, control all access to the Internet. ALL access!

Now, keep in mind that the ISPs are now completely unregulated. You may have thought that there was some privacy protection under the FTC; however, the “FTC is legally barred from regulating ISPs”.

So, any move you or I make on the Internet, every site you access, every search you perform, and every GPS location where you performed one of these things, will now be available for purchase or solely used by the ISPs.

Having this data unrestricted, en masse to the limited number of ISPs providing access to millions of US citizens is not simply a data geek’s dream, but exposes all of the inner thoughts and habits of our citizens to a very limited number of very large corporations.

It is one thing if customers willingly give up limited aspects of their privacy to providing businesses data used to tailor services on the customer’s behalf. However, from a consumer standpoint, deregulation and the removal of the rules around internet privacy is an invasion of privacy, period.

Everyone Needs the Internet

In this era of technology, it is nearly mandatory that everyone in the United States, from young students to the elderly, have internet access. Research for book reports, access to school grades, reviewing the next doctor’s appointment via a hospital app, and checking bank statements are just a few standard things we are now utilizing the Internet for versus other older methods. From the mundane to the highly sensitive, the Internet is used by everyone and is fast approaching becoming a basic right and utility within our modern society.

In fact, the United Nations Human Rights Council (of which the US is a named party) has already stated that the Internet is a human right due to its integral participation within daily life. Now, I recognize that the UN’s non-binding resolution is quite forward thinking and certainly pushes emerging markets to think about building their infrastructures. Also, I am not proposing to provide free, government subsidies services to all citizens. In fact, I do believe that, as of now, in today’s modern societies “technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself” as proposed by Vinton Cerf. As our country and world evolves, the Internet is fast becoming an inherent part of daily life to perform the most basic functions within our modern society.

Disrupts the Free Market

There also exists an unfair advantage in the open market under these same removals of privacy with ISPs. The other, non-ISP corporations fighting for our attention on the Internet are now at the mercy of the highest bidder if they want access to this data.

Currently, online companies either track activity with cookies provided to the user once the site has been accessed or rely on analytics tracking access to and from a particular website. However, users can choose not to shop or search with a business they believe tracks too much information. Users can also utilize free features built within the technology to block such information being relayed to these businesses.

Now, not only do these everyday businesses have to woo customers under normal marketing tactics, they are at an unfair position against the providers who now can track the entire life of a customer using the Internet.

Additionally, the lift on privacy goes beyond your everyday Joe plumber, Congressman, Doctor, etc., etc. This removal also disrupts businesses’ privacy as well.

How so?

Just as all of our personal information is now freely collected, aggregated, and will be sold to the highest bidder, the same is applicable to a corporation’s information.

People working for corporations use the Internet to access clients, research prospects, access banking, and for all other aspects of running a business. What’s to stop a competitor from offering sums of money to an ISP to gain inside information as to what another business is searching for, targeting, etc.?

The amount of connections and usage that can be inferred from this material is ad infinitum.

The advantage provided to ISPs supplying and controlling access to freedom is too great.

Deregulating Internet Data Upsets the Free Market

I’m sure you have continued to be pitched by the ISP’s lobbying groups, such as the CTIA, arguing the question “[w]here would the mobile ecosystem be under today’s heavy-handed regulation?”.

I believe we all know the answer to this question. It would be exactly the same. Where there is opportunity, there is a business. These companies have been building this infrastructure for years, mostly off the backbone of the telephonic land lines.

Deregulating ISPs access to all of the Internet usage only singles out these entities and provides them with a wealth of information we never consented to provide.

The free market allows these ISPs to fight evenhandedly for market share like every other business. There is nothing stopping a company, such as Verizon, from utilizing their existing fiber infrastructure between mobile towers to now open a new market. Adding a neighborhood or two along the path of their fiber run allows them to capture in-home Internet use on top of the cellular customers. It is a business decision based on potential customer count totals, cost to add the infrastructure, and how much money is recaptured on a rolling month-to-month basis. Regulation of our data was not a deterrent or determining factor in expanding their reach as a provider.

However, these ISPs, no matter what their market growth plan is to capture more customers, still control access to the entire Internet.

I am pro-privacy and pro-business within a free market society. Removing our privacy and providing unregulated access to a select few goes against the beliefs found on both sides of the aisle. Hopefully, you understand the error of your ways on this issue and will help to have this Vetoed.

On to Net Neutrality

Now, let’s talk Net Neutrality.

I would like to propose an analogy to explain how Net Neutrality works.

Assume that the Internet is the interstate system maintained by various companies known as Interstate Service Providers (let’s call them ISPs). These interstates are connected far and wide. They run all over the country, crossing states and keeping large volumes of citizens moving quickly from one place to another.

The ISPs all help maintain the interstate for the citizens. Some ISPs are regional and help maintain the portion of interstate flowing through the states where they maintain offices. Other ISPs are nationwide and help maintain interstate across most of the country.

All the interstate is governed by Congress via a national policy called “Net Neutrality”.

The Net Neutrality policy is a close sibling to the Interstate Commerce Act passed in 1887.

Similarly, the Interstate Commerce Act regulated the fees a railroad operator could charge an individual or business for use of the railroad. The Act evolved accordingly as the infrastructure grew nationwide, along with the number of railroad operators.

Driving the interstate is pretty simple as a citizen. The ISPs try to keep the interstate nicely paved providing citizens a somewhat smooth ride to their destinations with minimum bumps. In any direction along the interstate exist off ramps. These ramps allow citizens access to the free market where they can stop at a gas station, pick up a bite to eat, go shopping, visit a library or park, or even Washington, D.C.

All exits along the interstate are easily accessible to every citizen regardless of which ISPs help maintain that portion of the interstate. Many businesses have enjoyed placing their businesses on the exits and have even expanded to offer more locations around the interstate.

So far, so good? The interstate is a great resource for citizens to have access to any business, public resources, or other destinations they wish to visit with no restrictions.

However, Congress revoked Net Neutrality in the year 2017. This removal of policy now allows the ISPs to self-govern access to any exits along the interstate.

In some areas, ISPs start monitoring trends. The ISPs begin analyzing the traffic patterns of the citizens exiting. After determining high volume on some exits, the ISPs request that those business along high traffic ramps provide ISPs with kickbacks or other fees.

If businesses refuse, then the self-governing ISPs begin reducing those exits to one lane only causing delays in citizens exiting. Some ISPs even place some of the high traffic exits “under construction” until a deal can be made. The system of free trade has now been road blocked (pun intended) by selective restrictions of goods and services.

The free market now has to pay-to-play to provide their services through an emerging fundamental need provided to citizens by the government but controlled by ISPs. Citizens are refused easy access to many of the business and services simply because of the area they live. Everyone is at the mercy of the ISPs who provide the entire backbone to citizens, businesses, and public services.

This is not the type of interstate system that should exist in a democratic, capitalistic based country. It does not mimic Congress’ prior protection of the free market and “reasonable and just” access for citizens.

It is the government’s duty to monitor and regulate systems that when left unsupervised can cause an imbalance to the market and unfairly limit citizens’ access to goods and services.

Hopefully, the analogy has exposed the importance of Net Neutrality to you. Please vote to keep this policy alive for the sake of the preservation of privacy, the free market and your constituents.

Again, I humbly offer my knowledge about this industry not only from a citizen’s point of view, but also from both a technological and business point of view.