Tag Archives: Net neutrality

Legalized Discrimination

I work with a number of startup companies, as I’ve mentioned before. There are a whole host of issues that these newbies face but one they don’t, if they’re digital, is the same sort of access to their potential audiences as is enjoyed by their much larger, entrenched competition. The reason for this is an underlying principle of the Internet which is that all traffic – those little packets of information that carry data, pictures, sound, etc. – is handled equally, both by the “backbone” companies responsible for transport and by your Internet Service Provider. You know – the folks (or folks, if you have a cable provider that provides internet access and a wireless company) to whom you send a check each month in return for the ability to send cat videos to your friends.

The reason for this post is to call your attention to the increasingly loud noises out of DC about giving those ISPs the ability to discriminate. Three years ago, John Oliver did a fantastic job of explaining why this issue is important and last Friday night, he did so again. Why did he need to? Because rules that were put in place to protect everyone are being changed.

Suppose you watch those cat videos on three different video platforms: YouTube, Vimeo, and a startup called CatVideosRule. You notice that the first two are crystal clear and in full high-def, while the last takes forever to load, buffers a lot, and isn’t very clear. It’s likely that the reason for that isn’t that the startup is using bad technology but that your ISP is prioritizing traffic. Maybe they are getting fees from YouTube and Vimeo. Maybe they don’t like cat videos and are slowing down the startup. The reason doesn’t matter. What does is that it’s discrimination and it’s going to be legal. In my mind, once ISPs get to pick and choose, it’s not a big step for them to begin censoring the content as well. You know: if you want to be on our network at full speed you will not criticize us, etc.

The new head of the FCC is suggesting that we just ask the ISPs to promise they’ll play nice. These are the same ISPs that promised you 50MB speed and deliver 30MB with no fee adjustment or apology. We are already seeing some services become “zero-rated”, which means that using them doesn’t count against any data plan you may have. It’s bad enough that the ISPs are boosting their own services at the expense of others. Legalizing another form of discrimination could be the death knell of one of the things that have fostered the dynamic, disruptive growth of our digital world. Do you agree? Are you following this story?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Data Collection Matters

There was a piece on MediaPost about how the broadband providers and their trade associations have gone to court to prevent the FCC from imposing some of the new rules on how those providers may behave. The specific ones upon which I’m focused today are the ones concerning privacy and data collection. The article explains the issue nicely:

They specifically complain that the FCC’s decision to treat broadband as a utility also empowers the agency to impose privacy rules that could curb its behavioral advertising efforts, which involve targeting ads to users based on the Web sites they visit.

“Today, broadband providers can lawfully use information about customers’ Internet access services and usage to develop customized marketing programs that benefit both the provider and its customers,” AT&T and the others say in their court papers.

On the surface, maybe they have a point.  After all, many of us prefer to see targeted ads and as someone who has made a living off of marketing programs I’m all for them.  There is, however, a broader issue and it’s one of which any business who collects data (that would probably be YOU, dear reader) needs to remain cognizant.

The amount of data your wireless and/or broadband provider has about you is staggering.  They know where you’ve been and when.  They know what you research and with whom you communicate.  This fabulous piece demonstrates what all of this data retention means.  Ad targeting is one very simple use, but what happens when some insurance company decides to work with a broadband provider to find speeders and raise their rates?

Honestly, I’d still be OK with all of it with a very big IF.  Ask yourself this: do you know what’s being collected and do you know how it’s being used?  I can can “yes” to the first question and a very big “no” to the second.  I’m not a tin-foil hat guy – I don’t think there are seriously nefarious things going on at the ISP’s involving data misuse (the government is another matter).  I do think, however, that data collection needs to be explained to consumers in simple language and with sample data.  I think we all need transparency and the ability to opt in, not the demand that we opt out.  Having some protections in place isn’t a bad thing.  After all, the brief history of the commercial internet is rife with bad actors (see ad injectors, malware distributors, browser hijackers, etc.) who will do just about anything to line their pockets.

How do you see it?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud