Net Neutrality is a vague term at best, not even used in the Federal Communications commission (FCC) language concerning the currently popular debate among corporations and special interest groups representing consumers. More than a million comments have been listed to the FCC’s website, with a resulting crash because of their outdated technology. The crash has pushed back the time-limit for comments to Friday, July 25, 2014. The FCC will collect comments until September 10, 2014. Internet users are being bombarded with internet neutrality issues and the confusion is leading many astray.
New rules were proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in April after a federal court rejected the FCC’s previous version of those rules in January. Draft rules proposed by the FCC concern banning Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking user access to websites but allowing an unspecified amount of commercially reasonable agreements between content providers and ISPs to expedite delivery of some web traffic. Therein lies the conflict.
The FCC chairman maintains an open internet remains a constant goal, both groups for and against changes in the rules, are concerned about faster download times for some content and slow lanes may be relegated to other content. One major concern is a proposal to reclassify ISPs, so as to treat them more like a public utility and regulate them as such. This idea is rejected by ISPs, by FCC members, and by some members of Congress.
Not many members involved in rule changing agree on reclassification or if it would prohibit pay-for-priority agreements. Chairman Wheeler does not have reclassification as a current proposal, though it has not been discarded as a possible route for the FCC. Reclassification is seen by some groups as an arcane method of regulating the internet and may increase costs in a market already burdened with an expensive infrastructure. The confusing issues in this internet debate on the use of an open internet has become a tangle of wires crossed and meanings shifted until the discussion seems to be out of control.
What most people aren’t looking at is how close to the FCC rules proposed in 2010 the new rules proposed in April of 2014 actually are. Many of the groups against the current rules supported the FCC changes in 2010. Apparently special interest groups for consumers are not listening to Chairman Wheeler. He has made a concerted effort to clarify the current rules would extend the FCC’s control over ISPs.
The difference in the 2010 rules and the current 2014 rules is a solitary modification to the language instituted to adhere with the court’s decision. The 2010 version basically says that ISPs should not discriminate in transmitting legal digital traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet connection. The rule in the current proposal notes that service providers “shall not engage in commercially unreasonable practices.”
“Unreasonably discriminate,” and “commercially unreasonable,” seems a wording change the court finds acceptable. In actual practice, and the ability of the FCC to enforce the rules, the difference has no significance, other than to satisfy the federal court. In a different case, by the same court, concerning mobile networks and the rules regarding transmission of roaming data, “commercially reasonable” terms, was acceptable language.
According to the language used, these newly rearranged rules do not allow anything, nor do they disengage any net neutrality rules or laws already in place. No laws by Congress have ever been passed concerning internet neutrality. The FCC does not currently have any enforceable internet neutrality rules or regulations in its policies.
It appears both sides are using smoke and mirrors to confuse the issue. There are no crystal clear or vaguely written “fast lane” or “slow lane” laws or rules in any wording or bans by the FCC. There is no plot, no scheme, or subterfuge, by the FCC, or large corporations, in which consumers need to organize and fight to save the internet as it is currently being used. Net neutrality is an issue in which the confusion outweighs the facts and consumers need to use the internet itself as a means to discover the true path.
by Andy Towle