UPDATE 3/12: Today, the FCC released the complete Open Internet Order, which are the standing rules for the net neutrality act that classified the Internet as a public utility last month. The standing rules prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from offering faster service for payment or throttling online traffic.
These rules are directed at Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp., which have been guilty of throttling traffic and offering higher speeds for more money. The next phase of the new Open Internet Order will be to publish it in the Federal Register, and the FCC fully expects lawsuits from ISPs griping about the new rules.
Yesterday, as expected, the FCC passed new so-called "net neutrality" rules that classify the Internet as a public utility under Title II. Net neutrality is a very important issue that I've written about pretty extensively over the last year or so. If you need a primer, click here to read 3 things you need to know about net neutrality.
To sum up yesterday's decision, the five member FCC committee voted 3-2 to pass the Open Internet Order. This is a set of rules that the FCC plans to use to regulate Internet service providers (ISPs). The big change is that now the FCC will treat ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. That means the Internet has now been classified as a public utility, kind of like your phone, gas and electric services.
Just like phone and electric companies can't charge more for more reliable service, or interrupt or interfere with your service to strong-arm you into paying more, now the ISPs are prevented from doing that with your Internet. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement:
While some other countries try to control the Internet, the action that we take today is an irrefutable reflection of the principle that no one, whether government or corporate, should control a free and open access to the Internet.
But these new regulations have been met with fierce criticism. Is the chairman speaking on the level? Or do these new rules have hidden consequences?
Despite outlining new rules in a five-page press release, no one outside the FCC has actually seen the 300 pages of regulations that will now govern Internet access in this country. The two dissenting votes, Republicans Ajut Pai and Michael O'Rielly, said that part of the reason they opposed the Open Internet Order was because of the lack of public, transparent debate over the specific contents.
The first question you should be asking your congressman is what's with all this secrecy? Most insiders expect the full text of the regulations to be released within the next few days, but it's disappointing to me that the whole debate took place behind closed doors.
The second question you need to ask is what was the problem in the first place? My data wasn't slowed down and I haven't met anyone who says theirs was, either. I don't like the idea of making more rules and laws and growing government especially when there isn't really a problem that needs to be fixed in the first place.
It's true that Verizon has publicly admitted to throttling speeds of customers who purchased unlimited data plans as an "incentive to limit usage." On the surface, this seems like a ploy to force customers to pay more for un-throttled data plans, however, Verizon assured everyone that it's to optimize speeds for more customers. Netflix users also experienced heavy, systematic slowdowns of their streaming content. However, Netflix worked out a deal with Comcast and other ISPs to pay undisclosed sums to avoid future slowdowns. That's the free market at work.
The third question is how could the Internet be more free and open than it is right now? Have you seen the kind of websites there are operating these days? Tom Wheeler "promises" that his new rules will keep government out of the Internet, but I'll believe it when I see it.
I don't know about you, but I want answers to these questions. The FCC isn't a lawmaking agency. Congress can still pass new laws that override these regulations. On top of that, you can expect these rules to be met with serious legal challenges. We may have to wait a long time for the courts to decide before we have closure on this issue. In the meantime, I encourage you to contact your representatives in Washington to let them know what you think the future of the Internet should be.