Has The FCC Given Up On Net Neutrality?

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 24 2014 @ 1:39pm

Derek Mead outlines the FCC’s new proposed Internet regulations:

While the exact framework has yet to be announced, it’s expected that ISPs will be able to charge content providers extra for higher speeds. It would likely be voluntary, which is a key legal distinction; if Netflix doesn’t want to pay Comcast for bandwidth, it won’t have to. And if Time Warner Cable wants to negotiate different rates for special treatment with Google, NBC, and Netflix, it’ll be open to do so. But regardless, it will mean that those that have money can cruise in the internet fast lane, and those that can’t will be stuck with what’s left.

It represents a fundamental shift away from net neutrality, which assures that end users can pay for faster speeds but all content is treated the same. Net neutrality proponents argue that such equality is crucial for the vibrancy of the web. If Netflix has to pay more for faster streaming speeds, it will probably just pass those costs on to users; if a startup can’t afford to leverage a better delivery deal, it’s going to find it even harder to compete with the web giants.

Tim Wu is dismayed:

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others. (With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.)

We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies speed ahead. The motivation is not complicated. The broadband carriers want to make more money for doing what they already do. Never mind that American carriers already charge some of the world’s highest prices, around sixty dollars or more per month for broadband, a service that costs less than five dollars to provide. To put it mildly, the cable and telephone companies don’t need more money.

T.C. Sottek accuses the commission of cowardice and complicity with the ISP industry:

The government is too afraid to say it, but the internet is a utility. The data that flows to your home is just like water and electricity: it’s not a luxury or an option in 2014. The FCC’s original Open Internet rules failed precisely because it was too timid to say that out loud, and instead erected rules on a sketchy legal sinkhole that was destined to fail. As the WSJ reports, the FCC has once again decided against reclassifying broadband as a public utility. To declare the internet a public utility would go against the wishes of companies like Comcast and AT&T, which don’t want to be “dumb pipes.” There’s too much money to be made by charging everyone who uses the internet far more than what it actually costs to provide service.

Peter Weber offers more nuanced criticisms:

There are legitimate concerns that this rule, if enacted as envisioned, will turn the internet into a reflection of how the world works, with the rich and powerful using their clout and dollars to maintain their advantages and keep the smaller, newer players in the second tier or lower. But as long as no ISP can throttle or discriminate against traffic of any legal content, as promised, the biggest short-term impact to consumers will probably be higher fees for services that pay for the fast lane.

Net neutrality proponents are understandably skeptical of [FCC Chairman Tom] Wheeler, a former top lobbyist for the cable and telecom industries. But this weak-tea neutrality is neither fully his fault — the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. circuit, bears most of the blame — nor is it necessarily the death knell for an open internet. It’s just the beginning of a slightly stratified one.

Previous Dish on net neutrality here, here, here, and here.