In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: explaining net neutrality. This is The Two Minute Drill for February 27, 2015.
On February 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to regulate broadband Internet. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the policy will ensure “that no one – whether government or corporate – should control free and open access to the Internet.” The dissenting votes came from Michael O’Reilly and Ajut Pat, Republicans who argued that the FCC was overstepping its authority. The full implications of Thursday’s vote for so-called “net neutrality” require a more thorough and thoughtful explanation (look for an article in a few weeks). But, for now, what is net neutrality?
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
There is no single accepted definition of “net neutrality.” However, most people agree that any such definition of “net neutrality” should include the following two general principles: (1) that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network; and (2) that they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network.
These are not hypothetical problems. In early 2014, for example, Netflix was forced to cut private deals with Comcast and Verizon to ensure that Netflix videos would play smoothly on their networks. Netflix signed these deals because its customers had been experiencing declining speeds, and the company realized that it would be at a competitive disadvantage if it didn’t take action. After its payment to Comcast, Netflix customers experienced a significant 67 percent improvement in their average connection speed.
In the past, network neutrality proposals would not have applied to Netflix’s problem. That’s because Comcast was forcing Netflix to accept a whole new connection, rather than discriminating against Netflix and offering a “fast lane” on an existing connection. These agreements, which are known in the industry as “peering” agreements, have been traditionally negotiated in an unregulated market.
With the new rules, however, the FCC will govern peering disputes by creating a general conduct standard that Internet service providers (“ISP”) – like Comcast and Verizon – cannot harm consumers or edge providers (e.g., Google, Netflix). In addition, the rules: (1) reclassifies broadband service as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, a legal category that means it will be regulated like a public utility; (2) bans blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization; (3) enhances existing transparency rules; (4) permits an ISP to engage in “reasonable network management”; (5) gives the FCC the authority to hear complaints and take enforcement action, if necessary, regarding interconnection activities of ISPs if deemed unjust and unreasonable; (6) applies major provisions of Title II such as “unjust and unreasonable practices,” consumer privacy, disability access, and consumer complaint and enforcement processes; and (7) forbears, without any further proceedings, from other Title II provisions (e.g., rate regulation, universal service fund contributions).
The dangers of excessive government regulation are real. This is something that is accepted across the political spectrum. But equally as salient are concerns about big telecom companies abusing their monopoly power. That is what “net neutrality” is really about.
Word Count: 401
The Five Best Things We’ve Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles we read this week:
- Consistent Conservatives. In the midst of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the Pew Research Center released five facts drawn from its package of reports about consistent conservatives: (1) they participate in politics at higher rates than most other ideological groups; (2) they had outsize influence in the November midterm elections; (3) they would rather live in small towns or rural areas than anywhere else; (4) when it comes to raising children, they prioritize responsibility, faith and hard work; and (5) they gravitate toward Fox News (88 percent said they trusted Fox News).
- No Thanks. “To some recent vets – by no stretch all of them – the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering for people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters.” From Matt Richtel in the NYT: Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service.
- Theory of Everything. “Hawking shouldn’t be able to do the things he now does. The 73-year-old shouldn’t be able to deliver meditations on the existence of God. He shouldn’t be able to fret over artificial intelligence or humanity’s capacity for self-destruction. And he most definitely shouldn’t be able to attend the BAFTAs – Britain’s academy awards – settled inside the wheelchair that has carried him for decades, expressing admiration for a recent biopic that paid homage to his struggle. But yet, he is. And he does.” From Terrence McCoy in WaPo: Please Don’t How Stephen Hawking, Diagnosed with ALS Decades Ago, Is Still Alive.
- No Comment. “According to the Associated Press, Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri asked a doctor testifying before the House State Affairs Committee whether a woman could have a remote gynecological exam by swallowing a tiny camera. Dr. Julie Madsen told him no, that’s not possible, because items that are swallowed do not end up in the vagina.” From Tara Culp-Presser in ThinkProgress: Idaho Lawmaker Wonders If Women Could Have a Gyno Exam by Swallowing a Tiny Camera.
- Run for the Border. “The overachievers at Goldman Sachs aren’t all the same. Some have been valedictorians, or Navy SEALs, or the sons or grandsons of the company’s bankers. Some wills top at nothing to amass a fortune; others are patient. And at least one was an undocumented immigrant.” From Max Abelson in Bloomberg: How an Undocumented Immigrant from Mexico Became a Star at Goldman Sachs.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week examined King v. Burwell and the availability of federal subsidies to insurance plans purchased on the federal exchanges. Read the Column for February 24, 2015 – The Affordable Care Act Does Not Limit Subsidies to State Exchanges.