Skip to main content

Why you'll hate the Internet 'fast lane'

By Corynne McSherry
May 1, 2014 -- Updated 0004 GMT (0804 HKT)
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
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT