Washington state, and many other states are making moves to secure “Net Neutrality” for their citizens. What is ironic is that many feel the words “Net Neutrality” is actually opposite of what you think the words mean. Similar to the “Affordable Care Act” has turned out to be less affordable for most. Washington State signed a net neutrality bill that goes into effect June 6 and the governors of New York, Vermont, Montana, New Jersey and Hawaii have issued executive orders in an attempt to maintain what they see as “Net neutrality”. Twenty-two states have joined together in a lawsuit to block the FCC’s redefinition of “Net Neutrality”.
So what is really at stake and is there a good argument on both sides of the debate? Essentially the outcome will determine the future course of cybersecurity and what choices many of us have for using the Internet and how it is managed.
What is net neutrality?
It comes down to the Communications Act of 1934 and whether “Internet Services” is classified under the rules for Title I or Title II of the Communications Act. This determines what rules Internet Service providers must adhere to. And since Internet Services were not even on the horizon in 1934, the act is trying to modify old legislation to fit new world issues.
Title II covers “Common Carriers,” and applies to areas such as radio and telephone services making these companies subject to specific laws and regulations.
The Common Carrier law was formed to protect services needed by everyone; like railroads and electricity and taxis. The idea of a Common Carrier is that they provide a service so vital to the well-being of every business, person and community that the business running the service cannot be allowed to play favorites. They are required to run the service in the interest of the public good and are regulated to protect the public’s access to those services.
A Common Carrier is not allowed to decide what package or person they will transport or that they will not run electricity to an ethnic neighborhood or a church they don’t like. They are not allowed to tack on extra surcharges to do the same. Remember the time period that the Communications Act was written for, segregation and access was an issue. We have other laws today that cover these areas.
To Quote a relevant section:
“SEC. 202. [47 U.S.C. 202] DISCRIMINATION AND PREFERENCES. (a) It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage. (b) Charges or services, whenever referred to in this Act, include charges for, or services in connection with, the use of common carrier lines of communication, whether derived from wire or radio facilities, in chain broadcasting or incidental to radio communication of any kind.”
A Title I categorization is different. It is for “Information Services” and is more lightly regulated and requires reporting but not the same amounts of reporting as Title II. It can allow for, throttling and paid fast lanes on the Internet. Many people don’t understand throttling, but many Internet users have had their internet service “slowed down” by larger National Carriers when they have met certain thresholds in their paid service plan. Not all Internet Service Providers do this.
Here are a few examples, the old 1-900 telephone numbers that charged you for talking “frisky” with someone on the other end of the line, came under Title I. They were information services reached over a common carrier line. Netflix is another more recent example of a Title I categorization. Netflix under the current “Net neutrality” law would be carried over the common carrier of broadband.
States and citizens are not the only concerned entities taking notice. Companies that rely on the Internet for their commerce like Kickstarter and Etsy have filed suit in conjunction with four other companies to fight the ending of net neutrality. And other companies like the WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) for more rural Internet Coverage have lobbied to keep the Title 1 designation for small ISPs.
Cybersecurity and How it relates to Net Neutrality
What does this have to do with cybersecurity? The way the Internet is managed and how people receive their Internet Services creates the environment that can allow the whole community to better safeguard all end-users from cybersecurity attacks. In fact, Title I gives advantages in the cybersecurity world. DDoS attacks could be more easily handled. Most ISPs block thousands and thousand of DDoS attacks each day trying to protect their customers.
And any time you limit access to the Internet cybersecurity troubles tend to go down. Cybersecurity is a very large issue and problem right now on the Internet, and most people are naive to the impact it is having on our society. The more open your access to the Internet, including mobile phones and IoT, the more your cybersecurity challenges tend to grow.
But at what cost? Cybersecurity troubles go away entirely if we don’t use computers – but that would be an extreme solution. Technology innovations in the computing field have been one of the main drivers in the modern economy. Computers and the Internet affect everyone from the person listing a futon on Craigslist to giant companies like Amazon.
Some potential arguments include ideas of a market dominated by throttling. More throttling and blocking ability may help with a DoS attack but may come at a higher cost in other ways for business. A company may need a fast connection to the stock market? We have a rate for that, and your competitor is paying it. Are your data packets slow or getting dropped on their way from your clinic to your hospital? This is an issue that companies and ISPs have to work daily to find solutions for.
Other arguments talk about end to end encryption could become a premium service and third party information farming more frequent as Internet providers seek more ways to monetize Internet access. This could be a particular issue in places that have only one provider available.
Net Neutrality Conclusion
All said and done; “Net neutrality” can causes headaches for the cybersecurity community. Much like the shift from families owning a horse and buggy to owning a car required a complete new system of regulations, policies and businesses. Having a world wide web requires new ways of thinking and policing. We could have much more manageable cybersecurity without access to broadband and the Internet, but who would want to go back to the horse and buggy or back to a world before computers? The debate hinges on the definition and how the United States views “Internet Services” and should they be regulated heavily for protecting our society or lightly for allowing innovation and more free-market economy.
There is always a price for advances in technology, but like the telephone and telegraph, broadband has revolutionized the way business and personal life is conducted. United States Citizens are debating over keeping Internet and broadband services categorized as common carriers.