A new set of rules is officially governing the internet in the United States.
The Federal Communications Commission on Monday ended previous consumer protectionspassed in 2015 that prevented internet service providers from blocking or slowing legal traffic, or for charging for faster delivery of some content.
Now, ISPs are required to disclose any blocking, throttling or prioritization of their own content or from their partners on customers’ broadband connections. But if they want to do any of those things, they can, and that reality has net neutrality advocates and some legal experts alarmed.
What’s the bottom line in Iowa? If you’re to believe the ISPs, the answer is apparently: big whoop.
“In terms of our clients and our customers, this is a non-event,” Dan Templin, the senior vice president of Mediacom Business, told the Register on Tuesday. “(Providing open internet access) is just what we think is the right thing to do. Why should we make our product less valuable by shorting the consumer?”
Such answers, no matter who is giving them, won’t mollify hardened skeptics.
“Those who are not going to violate the rules should not fear their existence. But I think an inherent conflict in any business organization is that their ultimate goal … is to maximize profit,” said Nicholas Johnson, a former University of Iowa law professor who served as an FCC commissioner from 1966-73. “There are 10,000 ways to screw over your competitor. If you can do it, you will, no matter what the companies say.”
So that begs the question: Will they?
MORE:What the end of net neutrality could mean for you
What the providers say
Here are the latest statements on open internet policies from four of Iowa’s largest ISPs. Direct Web links to these statements are provided where available.
Mediacom has always believed in an open internet.
We have never blocked, throttled or discriminated against any lawful content traveling over our network.
Consumers want an open internet experience, and it makes good business sense for Mediacom to provide customers full value for their internet connections.
Thanks to CenturyLink’s terms of service and our commitment to an open internet, the change in FCC rules will not change anything for CenturyLink customers.
Baseline rules are essential for every internet company to allow for the security and privacy of consumers to be protected. CenturyLink’s operating principles are:
- No blocking — allowing our customers to access any legal content of their choice from any location or device
- No throttling — no lawful internet traffic is intentionally slowed to provide benefit to one content provider over another
- No third-party paid prioritization — CenturyLink supports customer control of what services they purchase, including the ability to prioritize content over their broadband connection. Third-party prioritization does not allow customers that control and should be banned.
CenturyLink will honor these principles and provide our customers with reliable and secure access to the global internet for the best internet experience possible.
— Statement from Frank Tutalo, CenturyLink media relations coordinator
Cox remains committed to providing an open internet experience for customers that is consistent with net neutrality principles. Shifts in how internet services are classified by regulators does not change our commitment. We do not block, throttle, or otherwise interfere with consumers’ desire to go where they want on the internet.
Windstream supports an open internet and values our customers’ ability to access the world. We do not block or slow down any internet traffic such as streaming or web browsing.
We also wanted to remind our customers that Windstream does not collect and sell our customers’ information to anyone, including third parties.
Above all, we are committed to protecting our customers’ privacy on our network today and well into the future. We stand by our mission to provide a fast, secure, and reliable high-speed connection and to allow our customers to do everything they love on the Internet, without interference.
How elected officials have responded
Within a month of the FCC’s announced repeal last December, 23 state attorneys general, including Iowa’s Tom Miller, sued the government to stop the repeal. Mozilla, which constructed the Firefox Web browser; Free Press, a public-interest group; and Open Technology Institute, a think tank; also filed suits.
“You can’t discriminate against those using the internet. You can’t discriminate against those that are providing content on the internet,” Miller said in January. “It’s, like I say, sort of a cardinal principle or the Magna Carta of fairness on the internet.”
Some proponents of deregulation say competition will prevent companies from throttling back speeds or raising prices — “it’s bad business, it is,” Templin says.
But that argument doesn’t mean much when many parts of rural Iowa that already lack basic high-speed internet, according to Miller’s January statements.
In February, the FCC’s released its most recent Broadband Progress Report, which found that roughly 300,000 Iowans did not have access to high-quality broadband (25 megabits per second download speed, 3 megabits per second upload) as of the end of 2016.
MORE:Mediacom has gigabit internet available in more than 300 Iowa communities
“There’s one service provider in many parts of the country, including Iowa. In Iowa in some cases, there’s no major broadband carrier at all,” Miller told the Register. “So competition really does not solve this problem and didn’t solve it pre-2015.”
Nationally, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to revive net neutrality. Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the effort, saying that government regulations were overreaching in the pursuit of a faster and more affordable internet experience.
MORE:Why Grassley, Ernst voted against net neutrality
On the state level, Washington and Oregon have since passed their own net neutrality laws. Another bill is pending in the California legislature.
In Iowa, state Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, introduced House file 2287 in February to maintain the 2015 rules, but the measure gained no traction.
“Creating viable consumer protections requires nationwide oversight; a patchwork of state actions will hinder innovation and impede deployment of the products and services that customers from around the globe are demanding,” Tutalo, the CenturyLink spokesman, told the Register.
For its part, Cox, says bipartisan federal legislation that “guarantees protections for consumers, applies equally to all internet companies and ends the regulatory uncertainty that occurs with every administration change” is the best solution.
Mediacom specifically asks for new federal statutes that “protect lawful content from being blocked, throttled or discriminated against.”
Why net neutrality advocates remain skeptical
Johnson, the former commissioner on the FCC, said he pushes back against the concept that the internet isn’t a utility, like railroads or telephones, and therefore something that the government needs to have greater control over.
“I think one could say comparing railroads and telephones is apples and oranges, but the public utility function is identical. It’s true of the internet, as it fits all the requirements.
“It’s something that large amounts of people come to need because it’s available and people want it. It’s something that can inherently be monopolistic or oligopolistic, and not fully regulated by the marketplace. … It’s really essential now to every small and large business, and schools, and most homes of people at the very least in the upper half of the economy. It’s certainly analogous, in terms of transportation over a long distance, and it interconnects people the way the telephone network does.”
Marc Martin, a former FCC staffer who is now chairman of communications practice at the law firm Perkins Coie, told The Associated Press that he expects companies to test the boundaries of what consumers will tolerate over the next year in spite of their statements to the contrary.
They won’t touch existing services such as Netflix and Hulu, but they could start charging extra for services that aren’t yet commonplace. Think in terms of upcharges for streaming ultra-high resolution 4K video, while offering lower-quality streams as part of a base package.
Templin, the Mediacom vice president, said consumers’ choices, as usual, will dictate the market.
“The informed consumer is the best ally and supporter we have. If we can get past the rhetoric, which, like many political issues, have become polarized, then how can we be opposed to net neutrality?” he asked. “No one is opposed to net neutrality. It’s been the practice for years, ever since the (former president Bill) Clinton administration authored the ‘light-touch’ approach. It’s what has caused all the growth in the internet that you see today.”