Net Neutrality has existed for a long time in the nerd-niche of the policy world, but now that Obama has asked the FCC to impose strict new regulations on internet service providers, the issue has jumped out of the shadows and into the forefront of public debate.
“Net Neutrality” provisions—new regulations that would use the authority of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to prevent internet service providers from granting preferential treatment to different types of online content—are controversial, and have already spurred lawsuits from companies like Verizon who are loathe to cede control of their services to the government, and the FCC is preparing for another onslaught.
Via Ars Technica:
“We are going to be sued,” he said in a Q&A after the FCC’s monthly meeting. “That’s the history. Every time in this whole discussion any time the commission has moved to do something, one of the big dogs has gone to sue… We don’t want to ignore history. We want to come out with good rules that accomplish what we need to accomplish, an open Internet, no blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes, no discrimination, and we want those rules to be in place after a court decision. So we want to be sure we’re thoughtful in the way in which we structure them and we’re thoughtful in the way we present what will ultimately be presented to a court.”
Verizon sued to block rules passed under Wheeler’s predecessor, Julius Genachowski, and has already threatened to sue the FCC over new rules under consideration. AT&T has threatened to sue as well.
Those who support Net Neutrality worry that not having a clear line in the sand will allow large corporations to throttle content from smaller content providers (read: content providers who don’t have piles of money to offer up) and create an unequal playing field for the kinds of free speech the internet is so famous for. But as the great people over at Tech Freedom have explained, this desire for a bright line rule ignores the reality and nature of online content:
…such a broad-sweeping rule against discrimination would do great harm, because it fails to account for a key facet of the Internet: some bit traffic is qualitatively different than others, because some is bursty (like web-browsing) and some requires sustained bit streams (like VoIP calls). Thus, while “neutrality” of treatment would perhaps be warranted when comparing like services (i.e., apples to apples), when comparing unlike services (i.e., apples to oranges), mandating neutral or equal treatment could do significant harm to both. In recognition of the fundamental differences between different forms of bit traffic, Internet engineers developed, among other tools, the Differentiated Services (DiffServ) set of protocols, which were designed to enable differential treatment of bit traffic in real-time. And by allowing ISPs and transit providers the capability to treat some bits differently than others, the Internet itself can work smarter, faster, and better for all parties in the online ecosystem.
The reality of the situation is that the FCC doesn’t have to do what the President says; then again, this fight isn’t new, and the FCC has been trying to impose new regulations on ISPs for years. They understand that certain types of content prioritization can be beneficial to consumers, but are also under enormous pressure from activists and the White House to “end discrimination on the internet” and reach the long arm of government into the workspace of service providers.
And when you start throwing words like “discrimination” into the mix, you can bet that any agency that works closely with the Obama Administration is going to have no choice but to spit out new restrictions on providers. Lawsuits are much easier to deal with than the boycotts of an angry mob—whose members also know quite a bit about what makes the internet go…and how to stop it.
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