Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Net neutrality...sort of

The FCC is expected to pass today new regulations that will essentially create two kinds of Internet access. But the likelihood of legal challenges ensures that any decision today will not immediately be enacted.

The issue of net neutrality largely has remained under the mainstream media's radar. And that's not because they are not interested in the topic; but, rather because until the FCC moved forward with its vote, there wasn't much news to report. The policy discussions -- critically important as they are -- don't often make for good headlines or visually appealing stories.

Keep an important item in mind -- the chair of the FCC, a Democrat, is being joined by his two Democratic commissioners in approving these regulations. The FCC's majority is passing a weak set of rules that don't fully prevent outside interference by businesses.

The two Republican commissioners are opposed, principally because they believe that any regulation on the Internet will be bad for business.

Let me give you an analogy: the Democrats want you to enjoy your local golf course, but they want to give the businesses that control the golf course a chance to influence how you play the game. The Republicans are saying that no regulations are necessary; the market will decide if the golf course is doing the right thing.

Now do you understand why there is such confusion? Today's "yes" vote sounds more like a wimpy "uh, yeah" while the "no" vote sounds like typical pro-business bluster.

This Wall Street Journal report highlights the principal areas of concern regarding net neutrality:
The rules are expected to bar providers from discriminating against legal Internet traffic and require more transparency. They also would let broadband providers for the first time charge more to companies that want faster service for delivery of games, videos or other services.
Net neutrality has become a contentious issue as worries grow that large phone and cable companies are growing too powerful as Internet gatekeepers. Start-ups and small businesses that rely on the Internet to provide shopping, information or other services to consumers are particularly concerned.
So, too, are consumer groups; their concerns are addressed more completely by the New York Times:
...a wide swath of public interest groups have lambasted the proposal as “fake net neutrality” and said it was rife with loopholes. One group, Public Knowledge, said that instead of providing clear protections, the F.C.C. “created a vague and shifting landscape open to interpretation. Consumers deserved better.”
Minnesota senator Al Franken agrees, suggesting in a Huffington Post editorial
Here's what's most troubling of all. Chairman [Julius] Genachowski and President Obama -- who nominated him -- have argued convincingly that they support net neutrality.
But grassroots supporters of net neutrality are beginning to wonder if we've been had. Instead of proposing regulations that would truly protect net neutrality, reports indicate that Chairman Genachowski has been calling the CEOs of major Internet corporations seeking their public endorsement of this draft proposal, which would destroy it

No chairman should be soliciting sign-off from the corporations that his agency is supposed to regulate -- and no true advocate of a free and open Internet should be seeking the permission of large media conglomerates before issuing new rules.
His voice has been joined by Steve Wozniak, who created the initial versions of the Apple computer. Mr. Wozniak suggests that the Internet is a bit like the moon -- owned by no government or corporation, and therefore all nations are able to explore its possibilities.
The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away. Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible.
One FCC commissioner -- Robert McDowell -- disagrees that the Internet will somehow be less free, less open than it was before.
The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist. Furthermore, the Obama Justice Department and the European Commission both decided this year that net-neutrality regulation was unnecessary and might deter investment in next-generation Internet technology and infrastructure.
Sadly, the courts will decide this important issue.

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