Friday, April 25, 2014

Net Neutrality loses its appeal and so do you...

Originally published on Kupeesh!

Who owns the Internet?

Apparently it isn't you at least so far as the latest rulings on Net Neutrality go...

With phrases flying around like "commercially reasonable" and "competitively threatening" one has to wonder if the free and open Internet is soon to be relegated to the status of those quirky public access channels you used to see on cable.

Biker Billy (legendary public access star) may have cooked with fire but he never had the opportunity to set the airwaves ablaze like Discovery channel's American Chopper.  He just didn't have the access to a bigger audience.

Which is exactly the scenario the Internet is facing.

The latest development in the battle for an unhindered Internet experience finds F.C.C. chairman (and former telecom industry lobbyist) Tom Wheeler at the center of the storm.  Coming after his bid to codify Net Neutrality under the F.C.C. umbrella was rebuffed by a Federal appeals court in January, Wheeler's latest olive branch appears to be anything but.

In the latest set of proposed rules, broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon would have the right to prioritize Internet traffic from those who pay for the privilege over those who don't.

Now, If you're someone who gets their news from the New York times,  your movies from Netflix and only plays games on your XBOX then you probably don't care.

But you should, here's why...

At its core, the primary argument against these new rules swirls around the concept of "commercially reasonable."  A term invented by the F.C.C. but so poorly defined that the agency will spend the next few months trying to come up with a definition.  The popular consensus is that it lies somewhere between a toll bridge and extortion.

Not only does the possibility (if not outright probability) exist for smaller content providers to be crowded out by deeper pockets but consumers could be in for sticker shock as content providers try to recover priority access fees.

Netflix and Hulu are going to get a lot more expensive...

On its face Wheeler appears to be trying to please everybody but his history as an ardent supporter of telecom industry deregulation makes such overtures suspect.

In January, the F.C.C. was told by the Federal court in no uncertain terms that the Internet was not currently considered a critical utility like water or electricity and therefore couldn't be regulated in the same manner.

Which was probably music to the old telecom lobbyist's ears.  Wheeler's statements this week have amounted to little more than lip service to Net Neutrality.

In what appears to be an about face since the court's ruling (despite Wheeler's denials,) the F.C.C. now embraces regulation "along the lines of the court's decision."  Meaning that every challenge is met with that phrase.  So-called Fast lanes, as the F.C.C. refers to them, cite the ability of premium content providers like NetFlix or Amazon to prioritize their traffic.

For a fee...

To be clear, nobody is saying you have to pay if you want users to be able to access your content but there's nothing in the F.C.C.'s proposals that require anything more of an ISP than a promise to play nice and submit a few reports.

It might as well be the F.C.C.'s version of Chamberlin's 1938 Munich agreement.

With an edict handed down from the Federal courts, Wheeler is now free to move the F.C.C from a regulatory agency responsible for protecting the public interest to a service window for telecom industry lobbyists looking to cash in.