The Net Neutrality Rule That (Almost) No One Likes

by George Peabody 0

A pre-Christmas present from the FCC has left no onesatisfied. The lengthy and often bitter debate over “netneutrality” has clarified little, opened loopholes for the cableproviders, and will invite plenty of lawsuits to overturn themarginally positive ruling in the future. Debate over the FCCrules, naturally split along Republican and Democratic approaches.It has also pitted the nation’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs),made up principally of the giant cable companies, againstcontent-oriented providers.

The archetypical conflict is between Netflix and the cablecompanies. Customers are dropping premium cable plans in favor of$8/month Netflix subscriptions. The cable companies want theability to charge extra for delivering that Netflix content. Andthat flies against the net neutrality vision where all Internettraffic is treated equally.

One of the unsurprising but impact-rich features of theFCC decision is that wireless Internet is not covered by theruling. That means, to the net neutrality proponents, that ourInternet experience will vary depending upon the means we use toconnect to it. The wireless operators are free to do whatever theywant.

The Internet’s design and rise was based on equal accessfor every device connecting to it. Now that so many of thosedevices are owned and controlled by the big cable companies,there’s a real danger that the Internet could end up looking likethe tiered cable TV business -one package for sports fans, anotherfor movie buffs, one for Facebook users, etc. And that, from aninnovation point of view, would be a disaster.

Despite Republican declarations to the contrary, ISPs arenot founts of innovation. I know… I used to own and operate one.All they can do is deliver and control the content and it’s thecontent we care about. We expect high uptime and good performancefrom ISPs because that’s their job. Charging extra for access toNetflix, Facebook, or Google might fatten ISP profits for a timebut content and application innovation will suffer.

“Managed services” are still allowed over thelast-mile broadband pipe, meaning that broadband operators can sellprioritized IP services of any kind. (“The new butnot-yet-properly-defined ‘managed service’ exemption may amount tothe first step down a slippery slope of non-neutral Internetservices,” said one complainant.)

The rules are full of loopholes and uncertainty(what’s “reasonable,” for instance?). And the rules continue to useTitle I authority for all this regulation, despite the fact thatthis was dealt a severe blow earlier this year by a DC Court;backers worry that even these limited net neutrality rules willsimply be tossed by judges.

After years of effort, one might expect a few moreuncorked champagne bottles from net neutrality’s backers once theyhad pushed for as much as they could get; today’s grudgingstatements of support remind us just how limited the final rulesare. Indeed, even Commissioners Clyburn and Copps, Democrats whovoted for the order, made clear that their own enthusiasm for theplan was modest, especially given its special treatment ofwireless.

Read more at the Ars Technica site:

And a typical media outlet’s unsophisticated view:FCC votes to require equal treatment for Webcontent:

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