Skip to main content

Why you'll hate the Internet 'fast lane'

By Corynne McSherry
updated 8:04 PM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The FCC might allow Internet service providers to charge more for a "fast lane"
  • Corynne McSherry: High costs will go to customers; Internet competition will be stifled
  • She says other advanced countries pay far less and get faster service than Americans
  • McSherry: On May 15, the public can weigh in on FCC's decision and voice concerns

Editor's note: Corynne McSherry is the intellectual property director at Electronic Frontier Foundation. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Recently, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, came under fire for reportedly proposing exceedingly weak "open Internet rules." If the reports are correct, the FCC will allow broadband providers like Comcast to make special deals that give some companies preferential treatment, as long as those deals are "commercially reasonable."

In other words, rather then requiring broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic more or less equally, the FCC will permit them to create an Internet "fast lane" and shake down content providers like Netflix, Google and Amazon for the right to travel in it.

Guess who will really end up paying for the fast lane? Yep -- you, the customers.

The price will be higher than you think. Not only will you have to pay more for the services you already use, but you will also lose out on emerging services that will be crushed by the new costs.

YouTube and Netflix may be able to "pay to play." But innovative competitors -- the next Facebook, Twitter or YouTube being dreamed up in someone's garage right now -- may not.

The proposed rules aren't all bad. The FCC will also require ISPs to be more transparent about the deals they make so customers will know what they are getting. The FCC will also caution ISPs against making deals that favor their own affiliated businesses (we're looking at you, Comcast -- no special favors for your friends at NBC Universal).

Court ruling might make Netflix cost more

Unfortunately, even "transparency" is tougher to enforce than many might think, because so much of our connectivity depends on secret agreements between various kinds of Internet service providers.

The devil is in the details. The good news is that we will have a chance to look at those details in a few weeks and tell the FCC what we think. The FCC will be voting on the new rules at its May 15 meeting. If it votes to adopt them, it must publish the proposed rules in advance and respond to public concerns about them. The problem is that most people don't know how this process works, and so they don't participate. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation is building a tool that will make that easier; visit our site next month at www.eff.org)

The Internet is too important to leave to bureaucrats who seem more beholden to the ISPs than the public. We need to let the FCC know we will not tolerate rules that let ISPs pick and choose how well Internet users can connect to one another.

If we really want to stop net discrimination, we need to foster a genuinely competitive market for Internet access. Right now, subscribers have few ISP options in many markets. If subscribers and customers had adequate information about their options and could vote with their feet -- i.e., switch providers -- ISPs would have strong incentives to treat all network traffic fairly.

Moreover, they would also have an incentive to improve our Internet speeds. Most Americans don't realize it, but the United States is falling behind when it comes to high-speed Internet. We pay much more for much less than subscribers in other developed countries like Sweden, South Korea and Japan.

Subscribers in those countries are getting Internet service that is 100 times faster than the fastest connection in the United States -- for a fraction of the average U.S. cable bill. That's appalling. We can do better, but only if we start demanding more from ISPs.

Already, our lagging Internet speeds are likely to have serious consequences. "What's at stake is whether the new jobs, new ideas, new services of the 21st century will come from the United States or they'll come from Stockholm, Seoul, Beijing, where kids are already playing in the virtual sandboxes of these very high capacity networks," noted Susan Crawford, a legal scholar who has served on President Obama's science and tech team.

Our ISPs have no incentive to invest in building powerful, competitive, networks. Why should they? It's not like their customers are going anywhere.

Fortunately, efforts are under way to address this. For example, all around the country, cities are investing in their own broadband networks, some successfully. Fostering strong alternatives in high-speed Internet access won't be easy, and community broadband alone won't be the panacea. But it's a start, and a movement the FCC should support.

We'll need more experiments like these if we want the Internet to continue to be an extraordinary platform for free expression, innovation and commerce. So let's make sure the FCC hears us loud and clear: Reject "pay to play" and resist monopolies so that everyone benefits, not just the powerful Internet service providers.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT