Eminem was wrong guys, the FCC is actually pretty cool!
It was only a couple of months ago that it seemed like the Internet was doomed. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler had introduced the concept of “fast lanes” which looked to be the harbinger that would systematically destroy the concept of Net Neutrality. It’s based on the idea that if companies like Netflix wanted to pay Internet providers extra to ensure that their content received enough bandwidth, they could do so. This obviously caused a problem for Net Neutrality advocates, because it created a price of entry for those wanting to innovate online. For quite some time, fast lanes looked to be the future of the Internet.
But then something happened.
Public comments were being sent to the FCC (via digital petitions) in such numbers that it actually crashed FCC servers! Multi-billion dollar tech companies like Facebook and Google started sending lobbying groups to Washington to create pushback from telecomm lobbyists (who opposed Net Neutrality measures). Also news makers like John Oliver came into the fray with a call-to-arms to all YouTube commenters and Internet trolls to do their part.
To call any of this a “movement” would be giving it too much credit. In many ways it was citizens actually participating in American democracy. All this was quaint in a way. For many of us who follow American politics, we know “the money” always wins out. In this case “the money” was referring to telecommunication and cable companies.
Long before Net Neutrality even entered the public’s consciousness, telecomm and cable companies have been trying to undermine the idea of Net Neutrality for years. They had always argued that Net Neutrality would stunt growth for network infrastructures. It would make networks less profitable and deter future investment in such ventures. In actuality, they would just gain to make more money if Net Neutrality standards weren’t upheld. It isn’t that these networks would become unprofitable, but they wouldn’t be AS profitable as their investors would like. It’s the reason their lobbyist wing, The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, had been running ludicrous ads like these in hopes of reversing public perception on the matter.
But the telecomm and cable companies were “the money” after all and in politics “the money” always wins. Or so we thought.
In an op-ed piece for Wired, Wheeler – who was once a proponent for “fast lanes” – now outlined the FCC’s plans of turning Internet access (both broadband and mobile) into Title II classification (aka reclassifying it as a public utility). He explained that the FCC would unveil a plan this week which would regulate Internet service providers from hindering Internet access to anyone, thus treating their customer base equally. While this would expand the government’s power to oversee Internet service providers, the new regulations would also uphold the principles of Net Neutrality, making the Internet open for all.
So what about the roadblocks? When you go against the likes of the telecomm and cable lobbyists, there will always be roadblocks when crossing them.
Well there are the Republicans. They’re wary about the proposed regulations due to the federal government having greater oversight over Internet providers. By reclassifying the Internet as a public utility, Republicans worry this could open up to intrusive regulation of the Internet in the future. A few Republicans are looking to draft legislation that would protect Net Neutrality while not reclassifying Internet access as a public utility. However Democrats and Net Neutrality advocates aren’t too interested in the measure since they feel they have already won the battle with the FCC on their side.
But could all this actually pass the FCC? As of this writing, the FCC plans to vote on the measure later this month. With Wheeler firmly behind the new regulations, it’s hard to see this measure not passing the five member committee considering two of its Democratic members, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, would be in favor of the proposal.
There is one caveat to all this however and that’s the courts. If the measure were to pass the telecomm companies would fight back in court. That’s what happened in 2010 when Verizon sued arguing that the FCC had overreached when they were finalizing the final round on Net Neutrality regulations. Verizon would end up winning that case. But since the FCC would reclassify Internet service as a public utility, legal experts say it would hard for telecomm companies to prove their case considering it is within the FCC’s right to reclassify services.
What you essentially saw over the last nine months, from when Wheeler announced his plans for “fast lanes”, is a system that actually worked as intended. Honestly, you very rarely see it work so smoothly. Today’s announcement is a win for anyone that isn’t a telecommunications company. While Republicans do have a point, the new FCC regulations could create intrusive regulation which could stifle innovation in the future; telecomm companies had lost the trust of the public a LONG time ago. With ideas such as creating “fast lanes” for more profit and continually undermining the ideals of an open Internet, it was creating a culture where the public would rather have the federal government step-in and regulate than have the free-market sort it out through innovation and competition.
The government did its job and for once – I can say without a hint of irony – the system actually worked!
(Photo Credit: Google Images, FCC.gov)