Two weeks ago, the FCC voted along party lines to change the internet as we know it. They did it in the name of “fairness,” and “equality,” and “adapting to a rapidly changing internet landscape.” A lot of meaningless platitudes boiled down to one simple idea: the necessary and inevitable takeover of the internet by government.
The FCC’s Net neutrality order boils down to three key rules:
No Blocking. Simply put: A broadband provider can’t block lawful content, applications, services or nonharmful devices.
No Throttling. The FCC created a separate rule that prohibits broadband providers from slowing down specific applications or services, a practice known as throttling. More to the point, the FCC said providers can’t single out Internet traffic based on who sends it, where it’s going, what the content happens to be or whether that content competes with the provider’s business.
No Paid Prioritization. A broadband provider cannot accept fees for favored treatment. In short, the rules prohibit Internet fast lanes.
Sound straightforward? Not so fast.
We have 400 pages of rules written ostensibly to govern and oversee the internet, and yet the FCC still can’t tell us exactly what they plan on doing with their newly-gained authority. The agency has already waffled on how exactly they’ll handle key areas of the new regulatory scheme:
- Network Pricing
- Interconnection Deals
- Sponsored Data Programs and Limits and Caps on Data Use
This is the issue that sent the Net Neutrality debate into the mainstream. The FCC says that all traffic should be treated equally, but they admit they don’t have the expertise to start regulating right away:
But the FCC says in the rules that it won’t be jumping in right away, because it lacks experience in evaluating such deals.
“We find that the best approach is to watch, learn, and act as required, but not intervene now, especially not with prescriptive rules,” the commission wrote in the rules.
These are agreements between content providers (think Netflix) and broadband providers (think Comcast) that allow companies to share traffic. Some of these agreements have led to disputes about capacity or money, and those disputes in turn have affected customers’ experiences online.
Under the new rules the FCC will take control of dispute resolution—which means that they’ll have control not only over how companies manage their own capacity and infrastructure issues, but how consumers eventually consume content online.
This is where the “big tech vs. struggling startup” defense to Net Neutrality comes into play. Sponsored data programs allow companies like Google to pay the cost of data, allowing mobile users access for free. Pro-NN advocates say that these types of programs boost large tech companies and hurt small startups that don’t have the resources to provide free data to customers.
Again, the FCC is prepared to “watch and learn,” and then use their authority to make a call on whether or not these programs will be allowed to continue. They’ll use a similar approach to data use caps; they argue that although these types of plans can save consumers money, carriers can use the limits to manipulate the market.
Welcome to a brave new world—of uncertainty and ultimate frustration at the hands of empowered bureaucrats.
For example—do you like Netflix? Plan on streaming your favorite shows from, say, a college campus? Check out your new nightmare:
Consider the way Internet resources are allocated right now at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. Currently, campus network administrators enjoy wide freedom to adjust priorities that match students’ needs in different locations or at different times of day. Here’s how Greta Pangborn, St. Michaels’ chair of the computer science department, explained the situation to the campus newspaper, The Defender.
“If you’re working in a classroom,” Pangborn said, “web traffic is more likely to be for homework, and more of our bandwidth should be used for that than for streaming media. In our dorms, the priority goes to streaming media, because the focus should be on entertainment in the dorms.”
There’s every reason for students to be happy with this arrangement. It favors different types of traffic in different settings, all carefully done in a way that matches up with academic needs and entertainment desires. But playing favorites in this fashion — even if it’s what everybody on campus wants — flies in the face of strict net neutrality, a doctrine that argues that all packets on the Internet should be treated equally at all times.
Left-minded blogs and websites are already framing this power-grab and rule structure as something that has existed all along. Gizmodo says,
“The full 400 pages of the FCC’s policy and research on net neutrality aren’t exactly beach reading, but the minutia are integral to the rules’ lifespan. These are the nitpicky things that big cable companies plan to challenge in court, the things that Republicans in Congress will use as ammunition to strip the agency of its power to regulate the internet.
In a sobering way, the battle is just beginning.”
Never mind that we’re still debating—and doubting—whether or not the FCC has this power to begin with.
Ars Technica posted an article for the purpose of mocking those who see these new Net Neutrality rules as being anti-speech.
Of course, these outlets have the right to say whatever they like; it just throws into full relief the reality of our ongoing battle against excessive government regulation in every form—not just when it comes to the internet.
WaPo has the entire set of rules, which you can read here and here:DONATE
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