For many years, telecom and Net Neutrality-related policies have been a
hot-button political issue for me, to the extent that I, an ordinary software
engineer at Microsoft have been blocked on Twitter by former FCC chairman Ajit
Pai because I tweeted support for Net Neutrality publicly.
I also noticed that Net Neutrality is less of a hot-button topic than it was,
presumably because of a deadlocked FCC that couldn’t pass anything. Or maybe
because, the media
would rather hype up “Big Tech” antitrust
and the internet policy discussion in congress nowadays is all about Google or
Just a few hours ago, Gigi Sohn, someone who’s actually competent enough to
stand up to Big Telecom monopolies, had withdrawn her nomination. Why? because
the telecom lobby fought tooth and nail, and even resorted to homophobia just
to prevent themselves from being regulated.
This is a classical case of not just regulatory capture, but also the media
ignoring telecom monopolies (yay, media telecom consolidation) to focus on
fighting Big Tech, so they can nickel and dime Big Tech and us.
While the FCC was deadlocked, I also noticed something: I kinda stopped
following telecom policy-related topics on my own. The Net Neutrality activism
scene of the 2010s kinda died out this decade.
I am a strong Net Neutrality supporter. In fact I fully believe not just in Net
Neutrality but in a FCC willing to stand up to Comcast, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
During the Obama era, we got Net Neutrality and broadband privacy laws, and
stopped the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. These are big achievements. But
why did this energy die out? I don’t have a definite answer, but I can give a
Because Biden wanted someone strong enough to fight Big Telecom in the FCC,
telecom lobbyists and Fox News came around to attack Gigi Sohn, someone who’s
actually competent to run the FCC, just to avoid regulations. Not a good way
to run the country, but that’s the sad but obvious truth of the US political
A lot of the issue was also initially the 50-50 Senate where Republicans could
fight the nomination, and even when we no longer have a deadlocked Senate,
conservative Democrat Joe Manchin opposed her anyways. Even Ajit Pai, a very
partisan far-right (and unpopular) candidate didn’t get this much opposition.
While the FCC was deadlocked, the FCC couldn’t tackle partisan topics such as
Net Neutrality. This is how I forgot about the FCC for about two or so years.
The media can play a big role in how the public perceives things. The media
now is focused on anti-Big Tech, presumably because they want Big Tech to pay
them for links.
But they focus less on Big Telecom. A lot of media companies are also
telecom companies, or benefit from their monopolies, just look at
Comcast-NBCUniversial-Sky, or formerly AT&T-WarnerMedia or Verizon-Yahoo.
And in turn, most people don’t care that the FCC is deadlocked. They get riled
up about Big Tech despite using Big Tech every day. After all, your mom
isn’t rushing to give up mainstream services for smaller
I’m not saying Big Tech is perfect. Heck, if I didn’t work at Microsoft (or
left), I would run everything entirely on Linux and open source software, but
Microsoft still pays the bills nevertheless, and leaving while theoritically
possible isn’t really an option right now (look at Tech layoffs).
A big worry during the Net Neutrality debate was the possibility about having
“fast lanes” and “slow lanes”, where a website could pay to be in a fast lane.
US ISPs have a reason not to do this: if they did, people would revolt and
that could make Net Neutrality bipartisan. Or states could mandate Net
Neutrality in law.
It could also be state Net Neutrality laws were effective. Big Telecom covers
both Blue and Red states, and to them it’s easier to centralize policies than
to have fast lanes in Texas but not in California.
State laws aren’t perfect: remember New York’s $15 broadband? Courts threw
it out since while courts said states can enforce Net Neutrality, they can’t
regulate broadband prices. If the FCC had their Title II on broadband, states
may have the rights to regulate prices.
And even then, some subtle violations do occur. Look at mobile video
throttling, not to mention
a list of them post-2018.
One example which really hit me during working remotely: having T-Mobile
increase the latency of Cloudflare’s 188.8.131.52 VPN during RDP sessions.
I have run LineageOS on-and-off on my phone, and one feature I used during the
pandemic is the VPN hotspot which is how I can bypass hotspot restrictions.
Well, if I RDP into my work PC outside of home, the VPN latency goes from
80-200 ms to 400-1000 ms.
Going back to Net Neutrality, even if we don’t have the dystopian fast lane and
slow lane world, that doesn’t mean all regulations are bad. The only reason why
we don’t have them is because they fear regulation on any level of government
when angry Internet users ask their legislators “why is Reddit slow”?
Net Neutrality can easily be ignored during the pandemic and recession, which
does makes sense, people were in a health crisis and now in an economic one.
In turn, government resources and public attention in the past three yeare were
focused in these places and not in the FCC.
With the recession, while Comcast is expensive, recession makes everything more
expensive regardless, and people may not even have a job, assuming they didn’t
die from COVID.
Does this make Net Neutrality less important? NO. But while we fought
COVID-19, the public largely forgot about Net Neutrality, even when in a work
from home world, Net Neutrality is still as important as it was. In fact, it is
more important if we are using our home connections more than our office ones.
After all, what happens if your job uses services that have poor peering with
Spectrum or Verizon? What happens if VPNs are also throttled or have poor
peering to your ISP?
Just because Net Neutrality is no longer a hot button topic does not make it
any less important. Net Neutrality is still as important as it was, because
broadband is a utility, even if it’s not legally classified as one.
We need Internet for anything. There’s a reason why everyone has roads, power,
water, gas, and landline telephone, but also why not everyone has access to
cable TV. We shouldn’t treat broadband like cable TV, but like electricity, but
we sadly still treat it as a “luxury” in the government.
Sadly people have a short attention span. We may have a fleeting mention of Net
Neutrality in the media now, and then people forget about it. Sadly, Net
Neutrality hasn’t remained a hot button topic issue unlike guns, or abortion,
or trans rights which get their respective bases fired up.
Even if Gigi Sohn wasn’t confirmed, I still believe the Internet should push
for strong FCC regulations anyways. We got Title II Net Neutrality (even if
only for 3 years) because the Internet got louder than the cable lobby, and
the FCC couldn’t ignore public opinion then.