Wyoming WISP Fears Net Neutrality 2.0

Jan 23, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2024 – A small Internet provider is certain about one thing: Net Neutrality is hazardous to its financial health.

Brett Glass is the owner and founder of LARIAT, a wireless ISP in Wyoming with a few thousand subscribers that got its start in the 1990s.

In a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission – which is destined to adopt Net Neutrality regulations later this year – Glass took time to recount LARIAT’s experience under the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules adopted eight years ago that were subsequently repealed in late 2017.

The 2015 rules, Glass said, nearly tanked his company, which started as a co-op before going private in 2003.

“… Worries that the proposed regulations would create an unsustainable regulatory burden drove away all outside investors, leaving LARIAT unable to raise capital for more rapid expansion to areas which require its services,” Glass said in a Jan. 17 filing with the FCC.

Glass, a Stanford-trained engineer who is based in Laramie in Albany County, fears a repeat of 2015 under the FCC’s newest version of Net Neutrality.

“To reimpose the rules … would again deter these investors and hobble competitive ISPs such as LARIAT,” he said. “The [FCC] should, at this juncture, table the present proceeding for lack of any imminent threat by ISPs to the openness of the Internet.”

Among other things, the Net Neutrality rules proposed by Democratic FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel call for a ban on network blocking and throttling, with an exception for reasonable network management.

In his filing, Glass said LARIAT has for decades followed “sensible restrictions on network behaviors which would degrade the quality of service of other customers or shift the costs of third parties to LARIAT.”

But his filing indicated that the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules would outlaw LARIAT’s restrictions as inconsistent with the reasonable network management exception.

“LARIAT has maintained the same consumer friendliness, transparency, and ‘no nonsense’ practices and policies which the members instituted, by consensus, when it was still a co-op,” Glass said. “The regulations proposed [by the FCC] would prevent LARIAT from maintaining adequate network reliability and quality of service.”

In an email, Glass said in the early days of the Internet, LARIAT “mitigated rogue Peer to Peer (P2P) services,” including Limewire and KaZaA because they “overwhelmed networks (the equivalent of a distributed denial of service attack) and infected users' systems with malware that was exceedingly difficult to remove.”

More recently, LARIAT has erected defenses against “botnets, spammers, ransomware attacks, mass copyright infringement, denial of service attacks, and similar network abuses,” he added.

Still, Glass is concerned the FCC would rule against him if he had to respond to a complaint.

“In the past, the FCC has arbitrarily and capriciously decided that beneficial practices such as P2P mitigation were not ‘reasonable network management.’ We're concerned that, going forward, they might do the same with other necessary network management practices that protect our users and the integrity of our network,” he said.

Although regulation is rarely cost free, leading Net Neutrality proponents insist that LARIAT is exaggerating in an effort to paralyze the FCC. They also claim the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules did not inflict financial harm.

That’s been the take of groups like Free Press for many years. Last week, the progressive organization urged the FCC to move ahead with Net Neutrality and tune out the noise about economic harm.

“The [FCC’s] proposed policies would change very little about the current industrial status quo, and would not impact investment, just as the policies based on the [FCC’s] classification decision in the 2015 Open Internet Order had no impact on ISP investments or deployment,” Free Press said in Jan. 17 filing with the FCC.

Glass said Free Press could not be more wrong.

“We had to cash out investors and for years didn't grow due to a shortage of capital,” he said.