Net Neutrality is No More

Today, the FCC voted along party lines to repeal what is known as “net neutrality”. The UK media company The Independent has a short, easy-to-read article on what this means. Here is the most important part:

“Without Net Neutrality, cable and phone companies could carve the internet into fast and slow lanes,” warns Save the Internet, a coalition of organisations that have been calling for the preservation of the rules.

An ISP could slow down its competitors’ content or block political opinions it disagreed with. ISPs could charge extra fees to the few content companies that could afford to pay for preferential treatment – relegating everyone else to a slower tier of service.

This would destroy the open internet.

An ISP is an Internet Service Provider, such as Comcast, or AT&T. Now that net neutrality is gone, Comcast (for example) could charge you more to stream music from iTunes than from Spotify. They could also charge Apple a certain price to be hosted at all, and block them if they don’t pay (much like AT&T refused to carry WTHR earlier this year). They could also make it harder to access a news site like CNN or FoxNews, either to make more money, to promote a certain ideology, or because the two CEOs exchanged words at Mar-A-Lago.

Here is the full article:

Net neutrality repeal: What is it, and why will it make the internet much worse?

After Thursday, Comcast Will Pick Your Web Sites For You

The Federal Communication Commission will vote Thursday to eliminate regulations that stop an Internet service provider, such as Comcast, from slowing down your connection when you visit web sites, or use apps, that they don’t prefer. For example, if Comcast makes a deal with Apple to push iTunes, they can then throttle your data–that is, slow down your connection–to other music sites, such as Spotify. It would also be legal for someone like Comcast to give a web site like Fox News preferential treatment, so that if you accessed (say) CNN or the New York Times, you would have a slower connection.

Sweden has experimented with not enforcing net neutrality: you can read about their experience here:

Net Neutrality’s Holes in Europe May Offer Peek at Future in U.S.

Should We Let the Government Leverage Its Data to Enact Better Policy?

When I was in graduate school, we debated the merits of a centralized data store that policy makers could use to make better decisions; ultimately, we decided the risks to privacy outweighed the benefits.

Data collected by (ethical) businesses is de-identified, typically by assigning each case with an arbitrary number. Government data isn’t, although as the article below points out, it could be. The bigger concern is that, unlike private organizations, the government can detain, arrest, and even execute people. On the one hand, none of these things happen without due process; on the other, power corrupts, and–what is far more worrying–people make mistakes. Are we willing to accept that?

We might be, if it actually does lead to better policy: having worked for the government, I can tell you that we routinely made decisions on what I’ll call sparse information. Several times, I had to request data from another state agency, and each time we had to draft an agreement specifying precisely what my agency could do with it. And there’s no data standardization across agencies, so sometimes after going through all this, I wasn’t able to merge the two data sets.

Which raises another issue: to make this work, each agency would have to use the same data semantics, file structure, and database application. Even in the ideal case, where everyone can agree on a common data dictionary, each agency’s ability to contribute data will be limited by its own architecture. And, as the second link makes clear, things are usually not ideal.

Let’s Use Government Data to Make Better Policy

Investigation Reveals a Military Payroll Rife With Glitches