When geeks go bad: FCC majority turns twisted tech into politicised policy

24 November 2017 by Steve Blum
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The rationale for declaring broadband to no longer be a common carrier service is a dog’s breakfast of contrived logic and ignored facts. The draft decision was posted Wednesday by Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai, after being enthusiastically pimped by his fellow republicans and fearfully slagged by their democratic counterparts. It’s on a fast track to be approved on a party line vote in mid-December.

This reversal rests on the FCC majority’s argument that broadband is not a simple telecommunications service, which federal law defines as “the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received”.

Their basis for that conclusion is nonsense.

The draft argues that using the domain name system (DNS) and data caching capabilities during the course of transmission somehow changes the form and/or content of Internet communications. DNS is the means by which plain language website names – tellusventure.com, say – are associated with complicated, numerical Internet protocol addresses. Functionally, it’s no different than matching a telephone number with a particular phone. Both involve entering easily remembered numbers and names, and relying on the network to look up and make the necessary connections.

Conceptually, caching is even more old school. Internet data is broken up into packets, which are then moved as quickly as possible to their destination. As quickly as possible sometimes means either enduring a brief delay or protectively preloading data – caching – when too many packets hit a particular point in the network all at once. The FCC majority’s claim that caching is an information service is as disingenuous as saying that Caltrans operates a parking service when freeways are jammed.

Twenty years ago, when we relied on highly competitive, semi-walled garden information services, such as CompuServe or the old AOL, there was good reason to take a completely hands off approach. However, today’s combination of a matured Internet ecosystem with an increasingly monopolised telecommunications market is a completely different environment.

Broadband is not just any telecommunications service. It is, by far, the dominant telecommunications service in today’s world. That’s a simple fact that the FCC majority is deliberately ignoring.