Net Neutrality Isn’t Dead, It’s In The Fight of Its Life

on Thursday, May. 15th

If you only get your news from Twitter and Facebook headlines you’d have woken up this morning to think that LA was swimming in oil and net neutrality was dead and gone.

Wrong on both counts.

I’ll leave the oil story to NPR, and dig into the battle over net neutrality. For those who haven’t been paying attention: net neutrality is the idea that the Internet should be a level playing field when it comes to network access. Non-neutral visions of the Internet involve tiered schemes that would create “fast lanes” on the networks which would give deep pocketed companies an advantage and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) a lucrative revenue option.

The knee jerk reaction to the new proposal is that net neutrality is dead, but that’s not quite right.

The commission did manage to vote on party lines—three Republican commissioners to two Democrats—to approve the current rules proposal, which now goes into a public comment period.

Ars Technica explains:

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) concerns “network neutrality,” the concept that Internet service providers should treat all Internet traffic equally, even if it comes from a competitor. But the rules, while preventing ISPs from blocking content outright, would allow ISPs to charge third-party Web services for a faster path to consumers, or a “fast lane.”

Curveball time: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (D) is being quoted as saying “There is one Internet. Not a fast internet. Not a slow Internet. One Internet.” Which is great to hear, but the new rules look to have little backbone for holding up that principle.

That’s because, as The Verge explains, we got into this mess when last set of rules was struck down by the courts:

The new proposal builds on the 2010 Open Internet Order that was struck down earlier this year, but it’s seeking comment on a number of issues that have proved central to the net neutrality debate. Broadband providers would have to hold to a minimum level of quality for any service, but otherwise, they’re only required to adhere to “commercially reasonable” standards. The agency is asking for comment on what those standards should be, including whether ISPs should be barred from allowing companies to pay for better service. It’s also attempting to create oversight for companies, proposing an ombudsperson who would represent internet users and investigate possible violations of the order. Wireless broadband providers have long been held to looser standards than wired ones, but the proposal encourages reevaluating this.

Anyone who follows Washington can’t be shocked by the sheer amount of regulatory chaos, including the required doublespeak of both intentional and unintentional varieties. We’ve been in an era of weak regulation for almost as long as I’ve been alive.

What’s annoying is that there is a clear cut regulatory path that is on the table. One that the commission holds out as the stick by which they meekly seek to get ISPs in line: the move to classify ISPs as common carriers. That essentially would mean Internet providers would be treated the same as phone companies, and be expected to provide their services at the level of infrastructure.

That’s too sane to fly in a city fueled by favoritism and corruption. Unless you help do something about it.

That’s where the “fight of its life” part comes in. Network Neutrality is an issue that effects far more than nerds in front of their gaming consoles and the kids who hang out on Reddit. The way in which the Internet is regulated will effect how business is conducted and political power flows in the United States for decades.

While there are real costs associated with treating a Netflix stream with the same dignity that we treat real time medical information, the political cost of allowing a tiered Internet—-of baking in a system of haves and have-nots—is too great. Citizens have a chance here to make their voices heard loudly, and not just via the FCC public comments.

This is an election year, after all.


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