Net Neutrality At Risk From FCC Ruling

Rules Too Important to Rush

net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission has moved forward with a new “net neutrality” ruling that could give some companies a competitive advantage over others, while increasing the cost of the internet for the consumer, which would make this a risky move. Rhetoric is flying from both sides as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to reshape the Internet as we know it. To this point, the Internet has remained “open” for all. However, that could drastically change with new proposals for rules and regulations.

The current proposal, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler,would allow Internet Service Providers (ISP) to charge content companies, such as websites, for more reliable and faster delivery of traffic to the American consumer. Although the plan passed in a three-to-two vote along party lines, the change-up in Internet economics would allow an ISP such as Comcast to charge a website like Netflix for faster video streaming. The consumer would be catching the brunt of higher bills if the pay-to-play schemes were enforced.

This new ruling is controversial and consumer advocates are stirring fierce opposition. Critics fear that it would disintegrate the principle that enables all content online to be treated equally by Internet Service Providers, which in fact, would mark the end of true “net neutrality.” Understanding the verbiage from the FCC will be key for both lawmakers and consumers in determining what it really meant for the Internet and whether it will favor the people or the capitalist.

Wheeler said that there is one Internet and that it must be fast, robust and open. The FCC also said that there was no hidden agenda. The US Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC must leave ample room for individualized bargaining and discrimination in place, as they do not have the power to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules. At this time, the FCC is not allowed to ban fast lanes on the Internet as is enforced by Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. In order to side-step current “Title II” regulatory powers, the FCC would have to “reclassify” ISPs as common carriers. To do so would vastly upset the ISPs and drive the battle into a legal frenzy. The FCC has threatened to do just that. ISPs are not currently prohibited from creating pay-for-priority fast lanes, so the FCC is trying to offer some safeguard within the Section 706 powers. Even if the FCC cannot stop ISPs from creating fast lanes, they can certainly hold them to a higher level of transparency on behalf of the consumer. Disclosing ISP network practices need exposure, says the FCC, to protect the consumer.

In the end, the proposal does not accomplish much, as ISPs are still allowed to charge online service providers for a fast lane to the consumer. It would be tricky to implement low-and-high priority traffic, on a global-scale network, as there would be dozens of cross connections between peered networks. Craig Aaron, CEO of media watchdog group Free Press, has said that a pay-for-priority Internet is unacceptable and opponents are girding for a major battle; thus, the FCC has much to filter through when considering the protection of “net neutrality.”

American consumers are being asked to respond as to what is the right public policy. One option would create a “fast lane-slow lane” system that could force discrimination against smaller companies, which would limit what a consumer would be able to choose. The other option would reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, likening it to a public utility, which ISPs strongly oppose. This would provide more stringent regulation to combat unreasonable and unjust discrimination. The latter of these two options is favored by consumer advocates. Tim Wu of Columbia Law School has recommended this latter option all along.

Commentary is coming from the Democrats as well as the Republicans. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden urged Wheeler to drop the idea of consolidating the broadband industry as it would place the small businesses, Internet users, and content creators in a position of being held hostage. House Speaker John Boehner and several of the House Republican leaders have requested the FCC to back-off, in that allowing content to be controlled by the ISPs would bring derailment to the Internet. Boehner went on to inform Wheeler that it would be counterproductive to innovation.

Wheeler did say that he does not want the Internet to be divided into the “haves and have-nots.” Deciding to classify the broadband Internet service as a utility would level the playing field and place net neutrality on much more solid ground. The ability to access lawful content on the Internet without restriction would then be assured to Americans and the outright blocking of websites would be prohibited from telecom firms.

The battle is on between two of the most powerful industries in the country; the telecom companies and Silicon Valley. The telecom companies argue that if they cannot charge tech firms for higher-speed connections, they will be unable to invest in faster connections for the consumer. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn encouraged consumers by formally welcoming public comment to be put on record, and said that the eyes of the world are on the US consumers, and it is the consumers responsibility and opportunity to formally give input. She also commented that the public does have the ear of the FCC.

There is a 60 day window for consumers to respond to the proposal and then there will be a 60 day window for the FCC to respond to the consumer. Consumer response will be presumably worked into a new proposal. It is the goal of the FCC to have new rules set in place by the year’s end; however, one of the Democratic commissioner’s Jessica Rosenworcel feels the these rules are too important to rush.

Courage and political capital will be needed to fight against the clout of the ISPs. American public support is needed to maintain “net neutrality” in support of the Silicon Valley and the average consumer. The FCC has provided a website available for comment. Although anonymous comments can be made, leaving name and contact details will be taken more seriously.Viewing the details of all rhetoric will be imperative for decision-making for both lawmakers and consumers to determine whether the final ruling from the FCC for “net neutrality” will favor the people or capitalists.

By Jill Boyer-Adriance

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