Apple has given its opinions on the issue of net neutrality in a statement to the US Federal Communications Commission. It did so on the last day of the consultation period, probably to avoid too much public discussion of its position on the issue.
The FCC will now go away and discuss all the submissions of opinions by various organisations, including Apple, before it does what many people expect it to do – end net neutrality as it stands now.
Net neutrality refers to the basic principle that all internet traffic is equal, which means that a small website has the same chance as a big company’s website of reaching the end user’s home or business computers and devices.
But many larger companies and telecommunications companies – which provide the broadband services – have been urging successive governments to end the principle so that they can create so-called “fast lanes” which carry priority traffic from higher-paying customers.
And in the administration of President Donald Trump, they have found a co-operative FCC, whose chair, Ajit Pai, has always been against current net neutrality rules.
Republicans in general are of the opinion that net neutrality rules are not good for business and want them changed. The changes they want would probably be in line with what the larger companies and carriers want.
The proponents of these changes say that the principles of fairness will continue and there’s nothing to worry about. But if priority fast lanes are created, it seems inevitable that smaller companies will be squeezed out – the end users have limited time and whatever websites get to them first will be the ones they look at.
While it may be argued that it seems consistent with free market principles to allow the creation of fast lanes on the internet, many of these broadband providers have built their infrastructure using government technology and subsidies, which is ultimately paid for by taxpayers and other citizens.
And given the possibility that a computer or device could be entirely dominated by fast-lane traffic – regardless of quality or relevance to the user – the environment that eventually emerges could resemble a oligopolistic broadcasting system which effectively shuts out everyone else and only makes a limited number of websites and other sources of information available, which is obviously against free market principles.
Many smaller businesses may not be able to afford or even want to pay to be on the fast lanes of the internet. And if the end users have no choice but fast-lane traffic, then such a situation could quickly transpire.
Apple is one of the companies which opposes the ending of what some call the “open internet” and net neutrality.
In its reply to the FCC, Apple says consumers should have freedom of choice. “Broadband providers should not block, throttle, or otherwise discriminate against lawful websites and services. Far from new, this has been a foundational principle of the FCC’s approach to net neutrality for over a decade.
“Providers of online goods and services need assurance that they will be able to reliably reach their customers without interference from the underlying broadband provider.”
It adds: “Broadband providers should not create paid fast lanes on the internet. Lifting the current ban on paid prioritization arrangements could allow broadband providers to favor the transmission of one provider’s content or services (or the broadband provider’s own online content or services) over other online content, fundamentally altering the internet as we know it today – to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.”
Paid fast lanes could replace today’s content-neutral transmission of internet traffic with differential treatment of content based on an online providers’ ability or willingness to pay, says Apple.
“The result would be an internet with distorted competition where online providers are driven to reach deals with broadband providers or risk being stuck in the slow lane and losing customers due to lower quality service.
“Moreover, it could create artificial barriers to entry for new online services, making it harder for tomorrow’s innovations to attract investment and succeed.
“Worst of all, it could allow a broadband provider, not the consumer, to pick internet winners and losers, based on a broadband provider’s priorities rather than the quality of the service.”
The full text of Apple comments can be found here.