Over 190 Engineers & Tech Experts Tell The FCC It's Dead Wrong On Net Neutrality

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Above Photo: Ajit Pai (center) is the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Mignon Clyburn (right) and Michael O’Rielly (left) remain as commissioners.

There’s now 11 million comments on the FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality, a record for the agency and a significantly higher output than the 4 million comments the FCC received when crafting the current rules. And while many of these comments are fraudulent bot-crafted support for the FCC’s plan, the limited analysis we’ve seen so far suggests the vast majority of those organizations, companies and individuals prefer keeping the existing rules intact. And most people generally understand that removing regulatory oversight in the absence of organic market competition doesn’t end well for anybody not-named Comcast.

One of the more notable recent filings (pdf) from this tidal wave of opposition comes from a collection of engineers, technologists, professors, current and former IETF and ICANN staffers, and numerous network architects and system engineers. Collectively, these experts argue that the FCC is not only making a mistake in killing net neutrality protections, it doesn’t appear to understand how the internet actually works:

“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.

This shouldn’t be particularly surprising to you if you’ve watched FCC boss Ajit Pai wage a facts-optional assault on net neutrality, ranging from claims that the rules actively encouraged dictators in Iran and North Korea, to claims that ISPs are utterly innocent of anti-competitive behavior, but Netflix was violating net neutrality simply by running a content delivery network (CDN).

But the engineers single out numerous technical mistakes in the FCC’s Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), including incorrect assessments and conflation of the differences between ISPs and edge providers (Netflix, content companies), incorrect claims in the NPRM about how the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 functions, how firewalls work, and more. But the engineers and architects also warn, as countless others have before them, that not having meaningful rules in place will result in an “balkanized” internet that will be nothing like the one that drove decades of innovation:

“If ISPs could engage in this sort of blocking, throttling, and interference (which would no doubt occur in the absence of the light-touch, bright-line rules in the Open Internet Order), it would transform the Internet from a permission-less environment (in which anyone can develop a new app or protocol and deploy it confident that the Internet treats all traffic equally) into one in which developers would first need to seek approval from or pay fees to ISPs before deploying their latest groundbreaking technology. Developers and engineers would no longer be able to depend on the core assumption that the Internet will treat all data equally. The sort of rapid innovation the Internet has fueled for the past two decades would come to a sudden and disastrous halt.

Well, not that sudden. It seems likely that if the rules are killed, large ISPs like Comcast will try to remain on their best behavior for a short while to give the impression that axing the rules was a good idea. But with no meaningful regulatory oversight (keep in mind the goal here isn’t just killing net neutrality, but nearly all oversight of ISPs), and no meaningful competition, they’re simply not going to be able to help themselves. If the ability to act anti-competitively without repercussion is presented on a golden platter, they will take full advantage in their unyielding quest for improved quarterly earnings.

Of course this isn’t the first time Ajit Pai and the FCC have been informed that they’re wrong on this subject, and are gutting meaningful, popular and important consumer protections solely to the benefit of a handful of massive (and growing) telecom and media conglomerates. They just don’t care. And while Pai and pals will still likely ignore this cacophony of opposition and vote to kill the rules anyway, with all of the recent examples of shady behavior at the agency on this subject, you’d like to think that something vaguely resembling accountability will wander in their direction… eventually.