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Network Cables

A number of my friends have asked what I thought of the White House undoing the FCC rules to protect consumer privacy. The concern is taking off the shackles will increase profits, but may not make the world a better place. I am cautiously optimistic things will be ok. In the short run, Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T may gather data which should be private. The problem is the FCC rules only applied to the Internet service providers because that is the only regulatory domain the FCC can affect. The social media and search companies have the most data about us and were not part of the FCC regulations.

There are many dimensions to privacy. An app, such as Internet voting on the blockchain, can be encrypted and completely private. The FCC protections were not about what is inside an app but about account info, what sites you visit, etc.The proper place to regulate privacy is the FTC. The new FCC chair has pledged to work with the FTC, and any regulations will apply to all companies, not just the carriers. I believe consumers will demand better privacy protections, and the FTC will step up to the challenge.

My bigger concern is Net Neutrality. Many people interpret the FCC move to regulate the Internet as a sign of government controls, more regulation, and stifling innovation. I do not see it that way. I am not in favor of more government or regulation, but there are some areas where government should take a leadership role. I am not completely comfortable with an FCC comprised of political appointees. It is highly unlikely the FCC is going to go away so what should their role be with regard to the Internet?

AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon would be happy to have less regulation except for regulation that helps them increase their hold on us, the consumer. There is not enough competition, prices for broadband are too high, and customer support is notoriously bad. Cities would like to work with Google and others to establish free WiFi as a boost to their local economies and provide more connectivity for education. The lobbyists have gone around the cities and convinced a number of states to make it illegal for a municipality to establish Internet service. In my opinion, that is not right.

Another danger area is content tie-ups. Suppose Comcast and ESPN made a deal together that provided extra fast speed for ESPN content. You could only take advantage of it if you are a Comcast subscriber. More than a third of broadband subscribers have only one choice of a provider. If such fast lanes became pervasive, it is conceivable, some say likely, the Internet for everyone else would slow down. That would not be good for innovation and the spawning of the next Facebook. Net Neutrality is a good thing for the Internet. Sasha Segan at PC Magazine said, “This isn’t a case of federal government overreach, or of federal government reach at all.” I agree.