Net Neutrality: We Have a Stake, Even If It’s Fake

There’s not a whole lot of TV ads that have long resonated in my mind, but in preparation for discussing the topic of this blog post, I think that this Jack in the Box ad from 2001 is worth citing:

But while we’re all saying no to fake shakes, should we also say no to fake net neutrality?

This morning, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to approve new net neutrality regulations, but they have critics on both sides of the aisle. The two Republicans on the commission voted against the regulations, and incoming Republican House members have vowed to have them overturned, claiming that they will discourage phone and cable companies from upgrading their networks. Meanwhile, net neutrality advocates such as Free Press have panned the regulations as weak and full of loopholes. That’s right, it’s a good ole fashioned compromise! Everyone hates it!

Well, almost everyone hates it. Turns out that a leaked FCC e-mail [PDF] shows that a number of companies are big supporters of the regulations that the FCC passed today. Here’s but one example: AT&T, one of the biggest anti-net neutrality lobbyists, which have previously said that “There is no potential upside to net neutrality legislation,” had this to say about this morning’s regulations (from pages 2-3 of the e-mail):

“[W]e are pleased that the FCC appears to be embracing a compromise solution that is sensitive to the dynamics of investment in a difficult economy and appears to avoid over-regulation. … Such an approach would reduce regulatory uncertainty, and should encourage investment and innovation in next generation broadband services and technologies. In that regard, we remain committed to working with the FCC to bring the benefits of broadband to all Americans.”
–Jim Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President-External and Legislative Affairs, AT&T, December 1, 2010.

And there’s plenty of other examples of anti-net neutrality companies that seem hunky dory with this morning’s regulations.

Now if you’re not clear yet on the importance of net neutrality, perhaps you’d enjoy watching my interview with Joel Kelsey, Political Advisor for Free Press on the subject. But to put it in a sentence, net neutrality is the principle that every website, no matter who runs it, is accessible on the internet on a fair and level playing field. Net neutrality advocates want the FCC to codify this principle as federal regulations to ensure that internet service providers can’t profit as gatekeepers. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has called this the most important free speech issue of our time.

So how does this morning’s regulations stack up? Well this summary by The Huffington Post seems to do the best job of covering what was set in place. According to that article, the new regulations do prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against internet content and services that travel over their networks, and requires broadband providers to let subscribes access all legal online content and services over wired networks. But the rules are much more lenient on wireless carriers, which are given much more leeway to manage data traffic due to having more limitations on bandwidth. While wireless carriers will be required to disclose their network management practices, and are prohibited from blocking access to websites or competing services on mobile devices, they could still block certain bandwidth-heavy services, such as video calling sites. However, these rules won’t apply to phone makers, such as Apple (with regards to its App Store, for example).

But perhaps most notable is that these regulations do not bar “paid prioritization”, though it is solely mentioned as a “concern.” They also leave the door open for providers to experiment with routing traffic for specialized services over dedicated networks as long as they’re kept separate from the public internet.

How many “O”s are there in “LOOPHOLE”?

Now personally, I will agree with Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who said that “Today’s action could–and should–have gone further,” but nevertheless voted for it stating that the regulations do represent some progress. But it’s nowhere near the amount of progress that needs to be taken on this issue. As 2011 shapes up to be a year where our interaction with the internet will be increasingly defined by mobile access, what with the expansion of 4G/LTE networks, and the growth of app phones, tablets, and inevitably Google’s Chrome netbooks, allowing wireless carriers this much control over internet access is a very fundamental and real threat to net neutrality.

And if that wasn’t enough, these regulations will very likely be challenged in court, as Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell predicted this morning. Just last April, a federal appeals court ruled against the FCC for sanctioning Comcast when they violated net neutrality principles established in 2005 by discriminating against BitTorrent traffic. So even the few gains to be had from this morning’s compromise regulations may yet be subject to being overturned entirely.

Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s any way to better underscore the importance of achieving true net neutrality regulations than by sharing this speech that Senator Franken made on the floor of the Senate last Saturday, in which he also commented on the pending Comcast-NBC merger:

So should we say no to fake net neutrality? No, but we don’t have to settle for it. It’s important that we all stay informed and stay involved with the net neutrality advocacy effort to ensure that we can continue to enjoy the free speech principles that have made the internet the vibrant resource that it is. I believe that the freedom of expression on the internet will be a defining issue of 2011, and it’s a subject that we at Tech tAUk will be keeping a close eye on during our upcoming episodes.

Who knows, maybe we can convince Larry the Crime Donkey to stop saying no to fake shakes and join an even more worthy cause.

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About Douglas Bell

I live in Washington, D.C., and work as a Broadcast Technician at WAMU 88.5 FM, the local NPR affiliate in the Washington metro area. My primary shift is to engineer the local feed of NPR’s Morning Edition, including local news and weather, long-form features and station breaks… and yes, the shift starts at 5 am, so I’ve got the whole quasi-nocturnal thing going on. I am also the Coordinating Producer for Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie, an independently-produced podcast and public radio program. Extracurricularly, I play cello, and participate in a church choir and a handbell choir. I enjoy discovering new places, and am constantly searching for the perfect cheeseburger. I am also known as a frequent teller of puns.

One thought on “Net Neutrality: We Have a Stake, Even If It’s Fake

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