As “Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” approaches, the doomsday debate heats up

Just as “The Event” approaches July 12, I got into more debate over network neutrality expiration in the U.S. on Facebook yesterday, and here is a summary of the latest in my own following of the topic.

If you want to make a comment to the FCC (before July 17), go to the “browse-popular-proceedings” link, where you can search and look for comments people have already made. The proper from to submit an “express comment” seems to be this one.

The FCC has already been bombarded by spam comments, some of them hateful or even racist toward the FCC chairman, according to this story on the Verge (Vox Media).

The Internet and Television Association makes this comment, reaffirming its commitment to an “open Internet”, which it followed up with paid print newspaper ads.  The New York Times had thrown cold water on Pai’s promised of “voluntary compliance” with no-throttle ethics in this editorial late in April.

But back in April, Rand Fishkin, on a Marketing Industry WhiteBoard, wrote a particularly telling predictive analysis of what could happen over time. The comments (closed now) add a lot to the debate and are well worth reading.

The most likely adverse scenario (which would probably take two or three years to develop) sounds like it comes out of the T-Mobile’s “illegal” plan a few months back to offer a bare-bones service that didn’t offer full Internet. There would seem to be a possibility that the telecom industry could treat websites as cable channels. It sounds like cheap, basic plans could offer families (especially consumers not particularly interested in the Web, or those wanting to shield small children) only a few sites favored by the ISP. More expensive plans could offer everything, as we know it today, with the Cadillac plans offering super high speeds in some areas. A small business owner could have to consider whether to pay for hookup so that lower-income or less wired people could find the business online. It might not be worth it. This could be a serious hindrance for some kinds of small businesses, especially tech innovations. But I’ve seen elements of this debate before, as with COPA a few years ago (as to how to screen objectionable content from minors).

This kind of development might not affect a blogger (with my “do ask do tell” model) like me much, because, frankly, I probably interact mostly with the choir, with people who want to be wired all the time anyway. Not to be offensive, but I doubt very many “blue collar” families in “Trump country” find me anyway.

This sort of a development sounds like a bigger threat to artists and musicians who often sell directly through their own domains (which POD publishers today try to goad authors into doing with volume discounts, bypassing Amazon laziness).

That’s one reasons there are some “collective” sites like Bandcamp (musicians) and Hubspace (writers) which probably offer some supervision and could offer bargaining power in a no-net envurinment. Bandcamp is interesting, as I know a number of composers and performers (especially in the classical music area) in New York, Los Angeles, and overseas. The classical music industry has a commissioning business model for new works, which can create certain ethical tensions. Some artists are starting to rely on Bandcamp more, and even want to train consumers to learn to buy from it, and get used to PayPal, rather than the laziness of the rich-man’s Amazon. Bandcamp was also developed as a way to encourage consumers to pay reasonably for content rather than use illegal downloads or get lazy with Youtube; it tries to balance out the “Its free” problem (previous posting).

Until now, it’s been considered more “professional” for artists and writers to develop their own WordPress sites under their own domain names. “No-net-neutrality” could change this, encouraging collectives and also throwing people back to free platforms like Blogger and free WordPress – but can we count on the business models for these platforms to last forever, given the resistance of the public to (including me) to engage ads (partly out of valid security and privacy concerns)? In the past few years, I’ve generally come to agree with pundits (like Blogger’s Nitecruz) that you shouldn’t depend on someone else’s free service.

I’ve also noted that hosting companies like Blue Host could help assuage the problem with subdomain and add-on structures that they have already set up. I recently had an informal chat with Site Lock on how all this works.

I note the debate over whether bloggers need specific attention to SEO, and whether that would change as net neutrality in the U.S. dissolves. I think it’s particularly important for people who depend on selling to others from a small business and whose website really can bring in sales.  That’s not true of all small businesses, and it’s not true of “provocateur” (yes, Milo!!) blogs like mine.  For these, the content text itself seems to carry in visitors.  “Blogtyrant’s” idea of email subscription mailing lists (in these days when people fight off spam as a security threat) seems to make the most sense to narrow niche businesses with customers who have specific needs that the business owner serves, including with its online activity. Remember the listservers (pre-social media) of the 1990s.

Still, the long range fallout from a “no net neutrality” position in the US could be pressure on small, neighborhood businesses. I think about my favorite gay disco, Town DC, which will close because of pressure big corporate real estate in another year. My favorite Westover Market and Beer Garden in Arlington could face similar pressures eventually, after all it has put into the business. I think of the independent book stores (that used to include Lambda Rising) which my POD publisher pesters me to cater to. I think of independent authors who sell books in higher volumes from their own sites than I do. Some local businesses are truly “local” and may not be affected as much by national web policies as they already depend on foot traffic. But the overall trend from loss of net neutrality could even be more pressure on small businesses to disappear or be bought out by large corporations.

In a recent op-ed, David Brooks noted that conservative philosophy, properly applied, emphasizes local activity, people helping one another, and local ownership of enterprise, and initiative.  That accompanies personal freedom at individualized levels, as Andrew Sullivan argued so well in the 1990s. What worries me is that the Trump administration seems to view conservatism as Putin-style oligarchy, where everyone is “rightsized” into some role of national purpose.

I’m not much into joining collective demonstrations simply against the “rich” or those “better off” than I am, as I am likewise more privileged than some people. I like to target my activity where I can make a real difference in how a policy turns out (I did this pretty well with “gays in the military” some years ago) by encouraging critical thinking. As a general matter, telecom, like any industry (most of all, banking), needs some regulation in the public interest once there are too few companies for genuine competition. (That’s partly what anti-trust is all about.) But you could say an individual like me, who doesn’t have a stake in life with specific dependents, ought to be reined in when my operations don’t pay their own way. Fairness looks both ways. When seeking regulation (just as with health care) be careful what you ask for.

(Posted: Friday, June 30, 2017 at 1:45 PM EDT)

Update: July 12

Report on my visit to a demonstration at the Capitol, here.

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