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Like generals planning to fight the last war, Congress has spent many hours, including this past week, arguing over presumed precautionary tales of potential blocking, throttling, and fears of paid prioritization of internet access. This so-called net neutrality fearmongering continues without evidence that concerns of threats to access to data are founded. While predicting the future can be difficult, the internet continues to be free and unfettered for US consumers to roam, with traffic moving at great speeds.
The original “internet freedoms” proselytized by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell back in 2004 (and again last week) continue to stand strong: US consumers aren’t threatened by blocking, throttling, or anticompetitive paid prioritization by internet service providers (ISPs). Rather than rehashing the unproductive net neutrality debate to score political points, consumers would be much better off if Congress instead discusses comprehensive privacy and data protection legislation in earnest. To better serve consumers, our legislators should look to the challenges of the future rather than focusing on the past.
National data privacy legislation
The role of data security in the privacy debate
While Congress debates reenacting precautionary regulation based on 15-year-old fears, malicious code continues to be released and data stolen over these same networks, and ISPs are working diligently with large and complex internet traffic flows to give customers the speeds they want while protecting both consumers and the network. However, since so much of this work is done without fanfare, it has come to be expected by consumers. The reality is that internet infrastructure is continuously under attack and needs constant protection.
Improving the security of data collection processes should go hand in hand with privacy legislation. This would greatly enhance consumer confidence that the right measures are being taken in the gathering and storage of data and transactions that occur. Transaction security is a continuing concern, as the digital economy relies on combinations of technology and data to deliver its benefits. Ensuring security measures are in place to protect both data and its transmission should be the top priority for companies.
Additionally, as we enable faster internet connectivity and the near-zero latency required by technologies in the 5G ecosystem, we have to recognize that more connected devices means a greater attack surface for cybercriminals looking to interrupt service and steal data, if left unprotected. Hospitals, industrial machines, and technologies such as self-driving cars will only work if concerns about access, speed, or interference are minimized.
Technology can offer solutions to these problems. The advent of 5G-enabled technologies is bringing to the forefront choices that can enhance privacy and security by design. Data flows in transit across network systems can be protected with encryption, and technologies such as virtual networks can help mitigate hacking, snooping, and jamming. These are the real issues that we should be tackling, rather than the ghosts of throttling, blocking, and prioritization.
If Congress still thinks issues such as blocking, discriminatory throttling, and potentially censorship are risks, they should look at the entire ecosystem to see where the problems lie. The internet is a system of many application layers, and it is in the best interest of ISPs to ensure internet traffic is delivered quickly and efficiently to customers, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and hundreds of millions of information and commerce websites requested by the end user. Instead of rehashing arguments that no longer need to be had in congressional hearings, everyone would be better served if policymakers focus on the future and on finding secure paths forward for data and technology.
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