/ Politics

FCC Net Neutrality Rules and the US First Amendment

A little history lesson and backstory. I am a Cisco Networking and VMware Datacenter Engineer. In my full-time profession, I design, maintain, administrate, and troubleshoot computer systems network for business. I have been doing this now for over 8 years total in organizations as small as 20 and as high as 3,000 employees in both 24/7 and 8-5 environments. So the following option is based off my professional and expert option that does not reflect the views of my employer or future employers.

How The Internet Works

The internet is a huge network of smaller interconnected networks. The networks are located in small towns in the middle of nowhere or huge metropolis in computer server rooms all over the world. Some data centers are even located on islands that sit in the middle of the ocean. They are all connected with fiber optic cables between towns and from one country to another via a global network. It's a vast and diverse network and in each of the networks there are server servers (where you get your content from including this one) are located on these networks large and small.

So your home computer trying to reach the internet needs to use smaller networks to get to larger networks to get to your content. Now let's get into the thick of the argument going on between content providers vs. the carriers that connect these networks together.

The Content Providers

Content providers want to give the users and the masses the fastest ability to large amounts of content. Let choose in this case, Apple iTunes, as my example of the content provider of where I like to stream movies and TV shows. I also use YouTube TV for my TV as I have cut my cable TV service and just use the internet. My internet provider is Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) and Apple and YouTube (Google) have their own providers. Now in order to support all the users and traffic from Apple and Youtube they have more than one provider/network to give their content out and in my example, my content that I am accessing could leave one network and eventually get to mine, Spectrum.

The Telecom Providers

Now I pay a fixed monthly cost in order to get internet services. The content providers pay a lot more for all that traffic and bandwidth from their providers.] for a lot of money already, but usually since they buy "in bulk" and have deeper pockets than I do, they can buy and build their own direct link into the internet backbone. Now, how runs the internet backbone? The providers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Time Warner, Comcast, and several others. The internet is designed that even though they are all independent companies, traffic is designed to re-route/travel or the "slowest connection" to get to the designation along the way. In this, you have "hops" and these hopes are devices called routers that... route traffic on the network.

The Example

Taking the above example, when I get information from Google, it hits many "hops"/routers along the way going to different providers and sometimes it takes different routes and goes through different carriers. Now in today age, these carriers have laid out the fiber optic cabling that lights up our cell phones with voice and data for internet traffic, but in the past, these carriers have been traditionally voice only. This is their bread and butter especially for AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. They are right when they say they have a lot of voice coverage in America.

The Telecom Provider Argument

The technology used in these interconnected networks haven't really changed much other the fact that the carrier might have to run more "fiber" to handle more traffic and that requires two devices at the minimum to place at either end of the fiber optic cable. You also have to find the facility to place this equipment if their primary location is "full" or "not convenient" for that particular run. Now I work essentially in the field struggling with the fact that I have limited resources to work with on a day to day basis. This equipment is not cheap. While I pay only $69.99 a month for internet access, some of these routers (including the software and the support that comes with it) that connect just one strand of fiber per "port" (A bundle of fiber can contain over 100 strands that can be connected), the fiber itself, the cost of running the fiber, the power and facility to run and cool the units, and the overall cost of configuring and monitoring these devices are really expensive. Over the time frame of a year, the cost to keep just a set of devices connected to each other could be a million dollars a year. So we are talking about millions and millions of dollars to maintain this network and to increase to have the ability to handle more and more traffic and a just general connector is quite expensive.

In their argument of "fast lanes" vs. "net natural lanes," they have to justify why 'net neutrality' can't be or should be regulated. In order to handle more traffic from the content providers that are not affiliated with them, they have to increase their own equipment to handle more traffic. If they don't feel like upgrading or adding more equipment, they could all of a sudden charge YouTube (Google) or Apple more money to use their network to justify the cost of now getting the network foundation to be able to get to you. Now YouTube and Apple are only getting so much from their members, us, for the content which ranges in the millions of dollars in terms of producing the content and even getting content from the same providers that are the backbone to the internet, and in turn, they could end by charging more for their service. Oh, and then by the way, because the content still has to come to me, they could charge more for my monthly internet rate. So while I have dropped my cable TV service to lower my monthly costs, signed up with YouTube TV and stream movies over Apple instead of owning more, I might end up the same amount paying per month as if I had a Cable TV system and I might not have all the content since some providers, refuse and to work with each other. Remember those TV disputes? Now it's just shifted from cable TV to the internet.

The Content Providers Argument

Besides the obvious, the content providers do not own the "entire" backbone of the internet. Google sorta has their Google Fiber project (more on this later), but by large, content providers are just a place where content lives and they give out.

If they had to pay more to get more of their content out, they couldn't produce the content that they feel they want to provide. This is sorta saying from the "The Telecom Provider" well in order to get your content out to make money you have to pay us money to get it out there. But the fact remains is that the telecom providers in recent years also have and also have started providing content of their own, and are they going to charge the member/consumer more at that point if they are providing the content over let's say someone who isn't the telecom provider? The answer is no. And the content provider has to travel over many networks just to get you, the end consumer of the content.

It all gets very messy.

The "Political Aspect"

One political point is the recent Time Warner and AT&T deal with Time Warner selling to AT&T large portion of their content package. Now for one reason or another, this is being stopped by the Trump Administration, yet similar yet as a more lateral move of acquiring more content, Disney is able to own and control more buy more content from 21st Centrany Fox and they are not a telecom giant. Disney has to relay on other providers, to get the content out. So Disney would be at the mercy of the very rules that were just abandoned by the Trump Administration. Disney might not generate the revenue it wants if it's streaming service (Rumored to start in 2018) ever comes to fruition.

Secondly, Google tried to deploy en mass their own Fiber project that would give consumers access to the internet to the same speeds that I would get on a commercial account. Google launched this idea to be not only the content provider but the telecom provider as well. They wouldn't have to charge extra to get any content to the end user. This scarred the big players in this space since Google has so much money just from its content alone, it wouldn't be that much to build a high-speed network right from the start that is upgradable cheaper than what the other players have invited years and years to do. The politics in play has basically shut out Google from laying fiber in the underground cable run that are already existing in most cities and even in towns where data lines are located on the telephone poles they can't use the space because the electrical company who owns the pole has to ask the current "providers" permission and as such, have denied most of the use. Google fiber project to lay down the needed fiber runs in order to support a town.

Lastly, politicians get huge ammounts of money from these telecomm providers. They might finnaly be impacted if their own server for NetFlix, Amazon, and others start to be slowed down.

The 1st Amendment Question

When a case ever reaches federal court it has to have merit-based off a protected and enumerated clause within our Constitution. This has been raised before about the internet and free speech.

The internet is so vast and open to everyone that it's become a place to share ideas, report the news, and even a forum for hate speech. Now countless lawsuits have been placed on "content" providers hosting hate speech on the ground that they are denying a person's right to express themselves. Most have lost this agreement on 1st amendment rights because the content providers are using their equipment as the platform and they are a private non-government entity that is getting zero subsidies for the equipment that anyone has access to. Some companies so have "farms of servers" that are for government use and it's not that the government is subsiding the cost of these "farms" is just a different security and design architecture to make sure the government entities equipment and data are protected differently. But in most cases, people use freely provided sites like YouTube or Vimeo to upload content without any problem following the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) without issue.

Our public roads are public lands. They are maintained by the government to make sure they are safe for our driving including about three to four feet on either side of the road in case they need to expand the road and also for those situations where a vehicle pulls over for emergencies without violating trespassing laws of an individual private land. This is also in most cases the same buffer where the electrical poles are placed and for the underground conduits in most metropolises are located for natural gas, electrical, and yes, even your internet data lines powering your phones and internet connection. So now we are allowing these telecom providers access to government funded and maintained space to place "private" fiber optic connections. One of the key points of the net naturally is that all telecom providers (large or small) cannot regulate or prioritize traffic going over fiber lines. If the telecomm was to create these so called "fast lanes" they can allow someone like themselfs as a content provider unfiltered and high prirotity traffic than lets say YouTube TV, which also might be carrying their content to the end user, a "lower and slower" prirotity for their traffic to reach the "end user" and in turn hurt YouTube (Google I doubt would be in finnicial jeporodry) but if you Google had to charge more to someone who is on a fixed budget for accessing their content, the ripple effect could be desves devestrating. Now I don't think it has ever been tested, but this amounts to infringing on free speech in my opinion since the telecom provider while being a private entity, is still using a government provided resources and "right of way" to lay down their cables. They could not be in these locations which means they would have to build their own "network of underground" and "elevated platforms" but in today's world they would have to get consent from every property owner that they would cross and then also pay them to place the equipment on site, just as if it was an Oil rig in the middle of the farmland in Kanas.

The net neutrality regulations were staying this fact that the government can regulate the telecom providers to make sure that they were complying with the 1st amendment by not filtering or throttling anyone speech and that would include someone hosting their own server at home sending content on the internet minus the fact that at your place of location you are paying for a "max" speed to enter the internet, but for whatever it is, you have access to the internet at that speed.

Now you are going to say, why does my place of work filter out websites for me not to visit? Well, unless you are the CEO or Owner of the company, you have no right as the employee to use an employee internet as your own personal internet service. You are subject to what they want because they are a private organization given you access to the internet. So they can do whatever they want, and I do this on a daily basis, they get. This is not the case with the telecom providers using public lands. They should be subject to the same rules as a public entity if they want to use the underground cabling tussle or electrical poles to bring their fiber optic cables to create and expand their network. In some cases, in new developments, the community builds these conditions to bring in these services, natural gas, data, and electrical and as such, the government is not funding these parts, but again if they are given access rights to use this condition to lay down the fiber optic cable by the neighbourhood it is not in the government's control, but now it's in control of the private entity of the neighbourhood, so why can it be regulated by a third party without consent at this moment?

In Conclusion

From the telecom providers propective is that not having the ability to create "fast lanes" potinialliy in the future and possibly charge more for certain content stifles innovation and reduces the quaility of service. On the flip side, the content providers, creating "fast lanes" would cost more money to access, create, and produce the content and that filtering of content is a violation of free speech. Based on my option it doesn't cost as much as the telecom providers to create faster speeds or add more "bandwidth" to an existing system. I see it as a ploy to only make more money.

The third element to any successful case is always harmful. Who does it harm more? Someone who is already making billions of dollars a month or the content providers (Google or the lone voice uploading content to Google) is how this case is going to be decided.

That is why this past vote with the FCC is so devastating. Our fundamental rights are being trampled by given these telecom providers the ability to shut off the speech that they might find offensive. This will drive more people into the "dark web" and that is a place we do not want to go and that is more devestrating in today's world.



Shane is the founder and author of 'the rabbit hole'. By day, Shane is a System and Network Engineer living and working in the NYC area. Free time includes movies, escaping to the non-tech world.

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