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Two days ago, Verizon and Google went public with their vision of the “free and open” internet, but as people are quickly learning, free and open is the last way to describe their ideas. They propose zero net-neutrality on wireless networks – what many people understand to be the future of the internet - and a standard for “non-discrimination” so empty discrimination will most certainly occur. Their proposal also reduces consumer power, instead handing it over to corporations to decide which applications will get the best quality of service, while at the same time establishing a tiered system, splitting the internet in two where when paying extra, consumers will get all the bells and whistles of new applications and new content while for free, consumers only get slow speeds, poor quality, and yesterdays news. Last, but certainly, not least, Google and Verizon’s vision turns the FCC into a non-player on net-neutrality, codifying into regulation their empty threats and weak spine, giving them no power to enforce any rules, instead acceding to a third-party arbitrator to decide what’s right and wrong, one that will more than likely be controlled by the industry it is meant to referee.
Well, that sucks.
It’s time for the FCC to stop trying to play nice here and do what it should have done as soon as Obama got into office, re-classify broadband as a “common carrier” and “telecommunications service,” re-assert their authority, take charge and protect net-neutrality once and for all.
This moment has been building for quite some time.
Let’s take a quick look back and see how we got here:
In 2002, GW Bush got it into his head to change the way the internet had been classified since its inception. Previous to his FCC’s decision, the internet had been governed by the Telecommunications Act of 1934 which many years later gave the FCC legal power over the internet. Bush reclassified the internet from a “telecommunications service” to an “information service,” which effectively stripped the FCC of any bonding legal control to regulate. Their basis for this decision was the internet provided other services besides internet connection, services like e-mail and web-hosting.
In 2008, users of the file sharing program BitTorrent noticed something strange, their traffic was slowing down. They then accused Comcast of deliberately slowing P-to-P traffic which Comcast of course denied, all the way up until they admitted it, declaring they had a right to do so on their network because BitTorrent users were slowing down traffic for everybody else and besides, they were only doing it during hours of peak use. This turned out to be false as a study from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems showed. The FCC ruled that Comcast had no right to slow traffic, with FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin saying, “Would you be okay with the Post Office opening your mail, deciding they didn’t want to bother delivering it, and hiding that fact by sending it back to you stamped ‘address unknown-return to sender?’”
Comcast, not caring for someone telling it how to manage its traffic, sued.
On April 6th, 2010, a US appeals court ruled that the FCC didn’t have the authority to order Comcast to stop throttling traffic. The FCC released a statement at the time, correctly saying the US appeals court did not “disagree with the importance of preserving a free and open internet.” The ruling simply said that the FCC didn’t have the authority as things legally stand now, “Nor did (the court) close the door for other methods for achieving this important end.” Since this ruling, the FCC got together with all the big Internet Service Providers behind closed doors to try to hammer out a deal to preserve net-neutrality on the internet. The closed doors outraged many consumer advocacy groups and this meeting was ongoing until Google and Verizon announced their “proposal,” then the talks thankfully fell apart.
So what happens now?
Google and Verizon are hitting the op-ed pages to try to sway public opinion in favor of their profits, leaving out many of the details on how the consumer will get screwed by their proposal. They say that their plan is not something that Google and Verizon will put into effect. It is a plan they hope a member of congress or the FCC might adopt in the form of a bill or rule-making process, “Consumers should be able to choose any lawful content, services or applications they want. Our proposed policy presumes that prioritization of Internet traffic…is harmful.” They then go on to say the wireless industry has “unique technical and operational challenges, demanding different considerations than wireline networks.”
Yes, different consideration…such as the negation of net-neutrality, of giving wireless providers the ability to block content, apply different speeds to different applications and relegate voices to the fringe as they see fit. Not to mention how they will directly benefit from their proposal as Google is behind the new Android mobile operating system that is featured on many phones running on the Verizon network. Course, this was not mentioned in their Op-eds.
In response, the FCC finally released a statement as well, written by Commissioner Michael J. Copps, “Some will claim this announcement (Google-Verizon) moves the discussion forward. That’s one of its many problems. It is time to move a decision forward – a decision to reassert FCC authority over broadband communications, to guarantee and open Internet now and forever, and to put the consumers in front of the interests of giant corporations.”
Well, this statement is a good first step. Now the FCC has to back it up and I would recommend a two-fold approach, reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service,” re-asserting the FCC’s authority to regulate the Internet, something they have the power to do as Michigan Law Professor Susan Crawford argues: the reason for reclassification is obvious, people buy internet services based on speed and price, and not because of extra services some high-speed providers offer (such as e-mail). This of course will bring lawsuits by all the ISP’s. Fine. Screw ‘em because in these courts their lawsuit won’t come to arguments for another couple of years.
And in the meantime the FCC should take their own proposal to members of congress. They will most certainly have to find their spine to do so as the Telecoms got themselves a lot of Congress types in their pocket. The FCC, with the support of Obama and the American people will have to hammer the legislative body with everything they got. They’ll have to get pro-active, get mean, push some people around, you know…get Republican all over everybody, and put net-neutrality into law, once and for all.
Remember when you were just a little internet start-up? Imagine trying to enter into the Internet world if corporations controlled it. How far do you think you would have gotten if the ISP’s could have slowed traffic to your site while speeding it up to those who already dominated the very marketplace you were trying to break into? How do you think you would have fared then, superior programming or not?
Or maybe that’s the point, two more bullshit corporations trying to codify their power into law.
I don’t want corporations to choose what applications I use, what content I receive and how I receive it. The Internet should be consumer driven, the way it always has been. Consumers must be free to access the Internet on the same playing field as everybody else, choose the content, applications and start-ups they like. We should determine who succeeds, not corporations.
They have enough control over information already.
FCC, do your job.
Have a nice day.