Since there seems to be some confusion on Net Neutrality, I am writing this as a very brief history of what Net Neutrality is and what it means to the Big 12. I am going to attempt to do this in a very layman way, so I apologize in advance if I dumb this down too much.
This entire argument boils down to the government reclassifying the internet as a Title 2 utility. First a quick understanding of what a Title 2 utility means. In real basic terms it is saying a telecommunications provider can’t discriminate what you do with their service. An example we all understand is the telephone. The phone giants wanted to block answering machines, fax machines, and even dial up internet, but were denied each time because of their utility classification. They can’t stop you from attaching something to their utility. They can only sell it and get out of the way of innovation. This applies in differing degrees to all classifications of utilities like electricity and water. The water company can’t send you untreated, or slower moving water because you put a reverse osmosis system on their utility or don’t use their chosen brand water filter or shower head. Utilities are something deemed too important to deny unfettered access. They are considered the backbone of innovation and ingenuity, and due to their universal importance can’t be used for exclusive deals. If a Waffle House and a Ford dealer want to make an exclusive deal that sends business both of their ways, there is no problem at all and that is what America is all about. The reason they can do that is because none of us rely on the Waffle House or Ford to exist. On the other hand, if the local water utility made an exclusive deal with Ford and only Ford got usable water and all the other businesses got untreated water, how is that not going to lead us to economic collapse? That is why they get labeled utilities. Without having universal, unfettered access to the same water as everybody else this economy and all innovation would dry up, no pun intended. Utilities are used in pretty much every civilized country. Having equal access to utilities are essential for an economy.
To understand why the the internet ended up here, I present a quick timeline of how we got here (and remember this is very layman):
- 1969 – ARPANET connects 4 computers and the “internet” is born.
- 1990 – ARPANET is decommissioned in favor of TCP/IP, creating the internet as we all know it.
- 1990-2005 – Internet runs on the principle of Net Neutrality, what we currently are used to, meaning the Internet Service Providers (ISP) can only sell you internet service and different levels of service (speed), but can’t dictate what you are allowed to read, view or buy. The internet is regulated as a Title 1 utility, the least stringent oversight, when most telecommunications are classified as title 2.
- 2005 – A North Carolina ISP blocks Skype and all VOIP products, forcing their customers to use the ISP’s system. The FCC steps in and demands they adhere to open internet principles.
- 2005- ATT CEO Edward Whitacre claims that website owners are “nuts” if they don’t think they have to pay a fee to the ISPs in order to not be blocked. Essentially showing their cards for the first time that the cable companies do not want the open internet we all enjoy today, but internet for only the highest bidders.
- 2007- Comcast begins blocking legal downloading sites.
- 2008 – FCC tell Comcast they must stop blocking legal sites and adhere to the Net Neutrality rules.
- 2008- Comcast sues the FCC to end regulation under Title 1.
- 2010 – D.C. Circuit Court rules in favor of Comcast claiming Title 1 does not give them the power to regulate Net Neutrality, because those powers would fall under Title 2.
- 2010 – Tech giant Google realizes that the politicians don’t have the stomach to stand up to the ISP giants, they concede that their battle to have Net Neutrality could be lost and begins negotiations with Verizon on rates to stay in the “fast lane”.
- 2011 – Proving Google right, instead of reclassifying and angering their telecommunication friends, the FCC tries for a middle ground. A sort of “enforce yourself” policy that is called The Open Internet Order where it relies on the principles of Net Neutrality, but basically abdicates enforcement and is more a set of guidelines.
- 2011 – Verizon sues the FCC over The Open Internet Order, even though it is largely unenforceable and most saw it as a major blow to Net Neutrality.
- 2013- During the court proceedings Verizon concedes that they would start charging websites to reach their customers if The Open Internet Order was not preventing them from doing so.
- 2013 – Verizon wins, throwing out The Open Internet Order. The court said in order to make rules like a Title 2 it must be classified as a Title 2. This now allowed ISP’s for the first time ever to cut deals with websites on who can be seen and who can’t.
- 2014 – While awaiting the FCC’s impending decision on if they will reclassify or not, and all assuming it will go their way because it always has, Comcast, Verizon, ATT and the other ISP giants begin striking deals with other internet giants like Netflix where they would pay to have access to the fast lanes. This would put everybody but the major media players at a major disadvantage to reaching customers, unlike the internet we have been used to.
- 2015 – The FCC calls Verizon’s bluff and recommends the internet be reclassified as a title 2 utility, allowing the internet, like the phone service, to be used without any interference from the provider. The Title 2 comes with a forbearance classification that does not give the FCC the ability to govern rates, leaving open competition to the markets.
Ultimately, their hand was forced by Verizon suing and even though Verizon won, they gambled that their
bribes campaign contributions would keep working in their favor. To those who say this is the great dividing line between those who hate corporations and those who hate the government, I would say you watch too much tv. As much as I would like to say this was the will of the people or the government being competent, it was actually just the reality of every other industry bribing contributing to politicians’ campaigns at a more plentiful rate than even the telecommunication companies could muster. It isn’t corporations versus government, it is corporations vs corporations, and virtually every single industry was against the telecommunications on this, thankfully for us. From business, tech, service, banking, transportation, retail, health, entertainment, manufacturing, financial and to any industry outside the telecommunications realm, they are in favor of Net Neutrality. Companies like Bank of America, VISA, Ford and UPS, who are not really your typical Marxist radicals, argued for Net Neutrality in their joint filing with the FCC last summer stating:
Every retailer with an online catalogue, every manufacturer with online product specifications, every insurance company with online claims processing, every bank offering online account management, every company with a website–every business in America interacting with its customers online is dependent upon an open Internet.
Fortunately those commies at Bank of America and Visa speak for all of us. As you can see, when you peel off the rhetoric this honestly isn’t a left or right issue. This is only being portrayed as a wedge issue by one industry, the telecommunications. If you get a lot of your news from television, cable or shows that are heavily sponsored by the telecommunication industry like Verizon, Comcast or ATT, you probably hear a lot of anti Net Neutrality arguments about stifling innovation or competition. This should be expected considering how much they will benefit monetarily from creating a pay for play internet. Am I saying your favorite Ron Burgundy will lie to you if it helps them monetarily? Yes, yes I am.
Consider these four scenarios and see if two of them strike you as crushing to growth and business:
A. The Waffle House makes a deal with the local Lincoln Elementary school that anybody with a school I.D. receives 50% off their waffles.
B. The Waffle House makes a deal with Piggly Wiggly that they are the only Grocer that can sell their waffles.
C. The local ISP makes a deal with the local Lincoln Elementary that every other school gets only half the speed that Lincoln receives.
D. The local ISP makes a deal with Piggly Wiggly that they are the only grocery store that can receive internet service.
If C and D feel different than A and B, even though the deals are similar then you understand why the internet is considered a utility. If you can exchange local ISP with local water or electrical utility and get the same feeling you are understanding why this matters. If you still don’t see why the internet is a utility, just fire whatever questions or rebuttals you have to me either by email or in the comment section below and I will get to responding to them.
If you are scared this is a government takeover do you really think a Title 2 classification is going to hamper the revolution? They would just do it. Fidel Castro didn’t stand on a barrel of rum and claim the entire media operations of Cuba, except the newspaper because they weren’t designated under a certain classification. Am I saying that you should you trust the government implicitly? No, but that also doesn’t mean utilities are a form of government takeover. It is pretty clear based on the history of this debate that both business and most of the government want an open internet. They have had 40 years to “seize” it and they never did anything until their hands were forced by lawsuits by the only industry that openly wanted to turn the internet into a pay for play scheme. I realize the telecommunications industry has a huge megaphone that they can spread whatever information they want which means I could spend all day trying to deflect conspiracy theories, but just drop me a line or leave a comment if you are somehow convinced I am missing the big picture. I always welcome the chance to learn new things.
So tying this all back to the Big 12, how does this help? If you believe the future of media distribution is over the internet, as I do,it would allow any school or conference to launch their own channel and self publish without any risk of throttling by the ISPs. In the telecommunications industry’s perfect world, Scout forums could load in 1 second while Rivals loads in 25 seconds in a certain neighborhood, but in another neighborhood you can’t even get Scout because Rivals has an exclusive college sports forum deal. Your internet would be served up similar to how your cable is with tiers but instead of channels it would be based on speed. The basic tier would be for the big hitters like Google and Netflix who can afford it with the fastest speeds, then slow lanes for everybody else. I think you can see why this was pretty universally panned. A website like this one or any site would need to pay fees for every ISP we wanted to be accessed on. Maybe we could afford Comcast and ATT, but to cover all the ISP’s it would get very expensive for anybody but the biggest company.
If that wasn’t enough we would be subject to throttling, which means all but the most heavily funded sites would load slower than the fast lane sites. Even deep pocket companies or conference like the Big 12 could most likely afford all the fees, but if the fees made the risk too great it stifles innovation that way too. Even if you argue that is the price of doing business, and the content creators are just whining, ultimately it is the consumer that loses big time, more than anybody else. They would have access to less than a fraction of the internet, with tiered speeds to make matters worse. All those millions of useful free sites that are out there but not willing to pay a ransom to be allowed on “Verizon’s” network would be walled off. The internet would become like a blazing fast version of how AOL used to be. That was just a lose/lose for America. Ultimately the Big 12, and most everybody, wins if they can compete head to head with the merits of their product and not be artificially crushed by someone like Disney because they make exclusive deals with a utility service.
The Big 12 team will be able to take advantage of the lucrative nature of publishing our own channels. Whether they use an in house crew or rent a production crew for their games, schools/conferences will no longer need to make 50% deals with ESPN or Fox to get their tier 3 games out to the masses, or even their tier 1 or 2. I wrote earlier about the reasons the distributors were trying to reach unusually long deals with content creators, like the SEC or Big Ten for conference networks, because they knew in the age of streaming that content is king. If anybody can buy a website and stream to the masses without needing ESPN’s muscle to get distributed, then why would you give them 50% of your profits? Obviously the idea that we will begin streaming today or tomorrow is far fetched as almost 20% of the country still has insufficient broadband speeds or access, and most of our schools have their tier 3 tied up through this decade, but the opportunity that was always there can’t be taken away by a legal decision anymore. We have certainty and we can plan accordingly. The future of the internet is most likely going to remain open to all without interference from the ISPs, just like it always has been. That really gives us limitless opportunities.
Want to see how a streaming channel could work financially for the Big 12? Stay tuned.