Wheeler's Moment of Clarity
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed Wednesday new FCC rules that would protect and preserve the Internet's Net Neutrality.
The proposals, coming after years of debate and an intense campaign of grass-roots community organizing and activist pressure on the FCC, would treat Internet communications as a Title II service -- the same FCC Title used to govern telephone communications. That change was at the center of activist movement demands since Title II services are automatically neutral under FCC rules.
(An important clarification: this does not mean you can get high-speed service for the same price as regular modem service. It means that access to data and content speed to your device must be the same. If you have a slower connection, all content would flow at that speed. Faster connection, all content flows at that faster rate.)
It is a stunning victory for the Internet-freedom movement which includes scores of organizations nationwide and that movement celebrated the announcement immediately.
The questions now are whether the FCC will approve the Chairman's proposals, what the reaction might be from corporations (like Comcast) who vigorously oppose this change and what, if those corporations unleash their lobbyists, might Congress do.
At this point the answers seem to be: yes, scream and not all that much but in Washington you never know.
In any case, what Wheeler has proposed is historic because it supports the essential definition of the Internet that drove its creation and has driven its growth: the freedom of all people in the world (independent of income, access to technology or political power) to access and use it openly and freely. Few technologies in human history have served that principle so perfectly with such massive social and political impact.
Net Neutrality is the principle that governments and Internet service providers should treat all Internet data equally and not discriminate or charge different rates based on user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. All telephone service is "neutral" in this way: you can't offer a faster phone call or cleaner connection for more money, for example.
It became an issue when high-speed Internet providers (mainly cable companies) complained that the FCC wasn't allowing them to differentiate in their rates based on types of content and other user differences. Telephone companies offering high-speed Internet had to abide by the neutrality rules because they are, after all, telephone companies. The FCC calls them Title II "common carriers". But when the cable companies entered the Internet business, offering high-speed connection, things became a bit murkier.