Wednesday, January 15, 2014

DC Circuit: Internet Still Not 'Common Carrier', So FCC Lacks Authority At Present To Mandate Net Neutrality

This could be really bad news... or not. Net Neutrality, a convenient handle for the set of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, issued in 2010 under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, under which the companies that actually provide the internet to Americans and America-based companies must treat all comers equally (i.e., roughly put, must provide the same services... bandwidth, connectivity and delivery... for the same prices, regardless of content), is in danger of being overthrown in favor of a model in which the largest corporate customers can receive the best services at good prices and the rest of us are left with the dregs... possibly dialup.

Other than the obvious, what is bad about this? There's a good argument to be made that a lot of the internet's contribution to the dramatic technological progress of the past two decades has happened at the fringes, where individuals or small companies have come up with often astonishing improvements in technology or process, in part because those individuals and small companies aren't out-competed for the "raw materials" ... i.e., bandwidth and delivery... by the telecoms themselves, AT&T, Verizon etc. After this ruling, if it survives the inevitable appeal to the Supreme Court, the big telecoms will be able to leave us little folk with inadequate resources, or adequate resources at obscene prices. (Internet access in America is already high-priced by world standards.)

This is not quite a done deal. The appeal to the Supremes is still a possibility, though I don't expect that to help much if at all. But there are still things the FCC could do, changes it could legally make to its own regulations and policies, that would enable it to regulate the internet as what it in fact is, namely, a common carrier. The previous FCC chair, Julius Genachowski, was apparently motivated to serve his large corporate telecom masters... apparently Obama's ideal as well. ("After all, the chief business of the American people is business" could as easily have been said by Obama as Coolidge.) The current FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, seems (according to several writers) to advocate a wait-and-see approach, which isn't much better, if it means ditching the open internet and waiting for the worst to happen. Or perhaps if we can mount an immense, dramatic public campaign, including citizens and small businesses, to pressure the FCC to preserve the open internet, just maybe it can be done. I'm not betting on it, but I'm not... yet... betting against it. Meanwhile, please read Kit O'Connell's linked post and view the attached video. (I don't often complain about fast speech, but these good people strain the limits of my old Texan ears.)

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