By Erica Portnoy
Today, a group of over 190 Internet engineers, pioneers, and technologists filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission explaining that the FCC’s plan to roll back net neutrality protections is based on a fundamentally flawed and outdated understanding of how the Internet works.
Signers include current and former members of the Internet Engineering Task Force and Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ committees, professors, CTOs, network security engineers, Internet architects, systems administrators and network engineers, and even one of the inventors of the Internet’s core communications protocol.
This isn’t the first time many of these engineers have spoken out on the need for open Internet protections. In 2015, when the EFF and ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending the net neutrality rules, dozens of engineers signed onto a statement supporting the technical justifications for the Open Internet Order.
The engineers’ statement filed today contains facts about the structure, history, and evolving nature of the Internet; corrects technical errors in the proposal; and gives concrete examples of the harm that will be done should the proposal be accepted.
The engineers explain that:
“Based on certain questions the FCC asks in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), we are concerned that the FCC (or at least Chairman Pai and the authors of the NPRM) appears to lack a fundamental understanding of what the Internet’s technology promises to provide, how the Internet actually works, which entities in the Internet ecosystem provide which services, and what the similarities and differences are between the Internet and other telecommunications systems the FCC regulates as telecommunications services.”
The engineers point to specific errors in the NPRM. As one example among many: the NPRM tries to argue that ISPs, not edge providers, are the main drivers for services such as streaming movies, sharing photos, posting on social media, automatic translation, and so on. The NPRM also erroneously assumes that transforming an IP packet from IPv4 to IPv6 somehow changes the form of the payload.
The engineers explain how the Internet (and in particular broadband) has changed since 2002, when the FCC first explicitly classified broadband internet access service as an information service, and why that classification is no longer appropriate in light of technical developments. Drawing on this background information, they then respond to specific questions from the NPRM in order to correct the FCC’s mistakes.
The statement provides nearly a dozen different examples of consumer harm that could have been prevented by the light-touch, bright-line rules—like when AT&T distorted the market for content by using its gatekeeping power to not charge its customers for its DIRECTV video service while charging third-parties more to similarly zero-rate data. It also gives several examples of consumer benefits that happened as a result of the 2015 Open Internet Order, like mobile service providers finally removing the prohibition that was stopping customers from tethering their personal computers to their mobile devices in order to use their mobile broadband connections.
The NPRM fundamentally misunderstands the basic technology underlying how the Internet works. If the FCC were to move forward with its NPRM as proposed, the results could be disastrous: the FCC would be making a major regulatory decision based on plainly incorrect assumptions about the underlying technology and Internet ecosystem that will have a disastrous effect on innovation in the Internet ecosystem as a whole.