My Take on the Net Neutrality Ruling

Network_neutrality_poster_symbolChairman Wheeler announced the highlights of his proposed order on net neutrality, and since I have been following this closely I guess I should weigh in on what he is proposing. Assuming the FCC vote goes along party lines, this ought to be passed later this month.

My first reaction is one of huge respect for the Chairman. When he first came to office I looked at his background and was highly skeptical about a guy who had worked as the head lobbyist for both the wireless and the cable industries. I assumed it was going to be difficult for him to make the hard calls against those two industries. But with this ruling, and with other rulings such as the expected ruling later this month about allowing municipal broadband, he has proven he is willing to make hard choices.

The Chairman is proposing to implement Title II as the mechanism for regulating the Internet. He is fixing the mistake the FCC made a generation ago when they decided not to use Title II. There is no doubt that one of the big telcos, cable companies, or wireless companies will take this order to court. And that’s too bad, because in this case I think it just delays the inevitable. This is something that the FCC is allowed to do, and I think ultimately any court is going to agree with that.

The carriers hate this ruling because it gives the FCC the ability to tell them no. The FCC can stop ISPs from abusing the public through their broadband policies. It’s a bit ironic since the big companies have mostly been on their best behavior for several years so that they didn’t get this kind of net neutrality ruling. But even so they have done things that harmed the public. Look at the whole fiasco last year when most of the big ISPs were slowing down Netflix on purpose and trying to extract payments from them.

The largest ISPs have proven many times that they are only out for profits. This is somewhat sad because the old Ma Bell, even with many flaws, was mostly a company that did the right thing by the public. There were times when they would dig in their heels and take a stupid position, but the old AT&T also built and operated a telecom network that was the envy of the rest of the world.

But I see zero morality these days out of the likes of AT&T and Comcast. They only care about profits and stock prices and they will try anything and do anything that makes them the most money. And that is why these net neutrality rules are badly needed. I’ve always assumed that they have had a pile of bad ideas ready to foist on the public the second they think that net neutrality is no longer an issue.

So I view these net neutrality rules as a safety net for all of us little people who otherwise have no power against the oligopoly telecom providers. Now the FCC can step in when they get complaints and tell the large ISPs to stop bad behavior.

The FCC published this document of talking points that outlines what will be up for a vote later this month. I am sure that there is going to be a lot more detail to wade through when the order comes out, but this provides a pretty complete picture of how it is going to work.

One thing that I hope doesn’t happen is for politics to raise its ugly head, get involved, and interfere to give the carriers what they want. For instance, there is a bill  circulating in Congress right now that says that it provides for an open Internet without using Title II. That may sound okay, but the bill was written by the big carriers, and it says all the right feel-good stuff about net neutrality but doesn’t give the FCC the authority to crack down on carriers when they misbehave. No bill like that is going to make it into law because the President will veto anything that endangers net neutrality. But you have to worry about the carriers sneaking in watered-down net neutrality rules through some backdoor approach.

This is a bold move by the FCC. I’ve read every proposal imaginable about how to make net neutrality work and this is the only approach that has enough teeth to be able to rein in the ISPs while fitting within the existing law in a way that should survive legal challenge. In fact, when the courts overturned the last net neutrality order they basically suggested Title II as an approach they could approve. A year ago nobody gave this solution a chance. But Chairman Wheeler has done the right thing and preserved the Internet for a while longer.

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