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FCC’s Net Neutrality Decision is Celebrated and Hated

You can’t please everyone, apparently!

Late last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acted on a long-anticipated decision to reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service instead of an information service.  As a telecommunications service, the Internet is now subject to a provision of a federal law, Title II of the Communications Act, which allows the FCC to regulate the Internet much the same way as they regulate other telecommunications services like standard landlines and mobile phone services.  Many people hailed the decision, calling it a victory for consumers, but those on the other side of the argument – the kind of folks who don’t want to hear the words “regulation” and “Internet” in the same sentence – attacked the FCC.

The advocates of so-called Net Neutrality felt that the FCC had to intervene to protect equal access to the online services that depend on the Internet. They feared that the big Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Comcast and Time-Warner, who account for more than 60% of the broadband available in the United States, could and would start deciding who got faster service and who would be penalized. The website www.savetheinternet.com puts it this way:

Without Net Neutrality, cable and phone companies could carve the Internet into fast and slow lanes. An ISP could slow down its competitors’ content or block political opinions it disagreed with. ISPs could charge extra fees to the few content companies that could afford to pay for preferential treatment — relegating everyone else to a slower tier of service. This would destroy the open Internet.

When announcing the reclassification, the chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, stated that the FCC had no desire to impose regulations on the Internet or seek fees or taxes from subscribers, but that’s exactly what opponents of the decision claim will happen.  They point out that by relabeling the Internet as a telecommunications service, there is nothing stopping the FCC from treating it like they already treat most phone services, which are heavily regulated and taxed at multiple levels throughout the government. Opponents also fear that the FCC ruling will stifle innovation and investment in new technologies.

Having examined the issue at length over the last couple of years, I am in the camp of those who support the FCC’s decision.   Comcast and Time-Warner have already begun charging some web sites higher fees to allow their content to be accessed, most notably Netflix (www.netflix.com) and they have argued throughout that they should be able to charge more for heavier users and for premium access. As many of you know, Comcast and Time-Warner are proposing to merge, which will create a near-monopoly power that will control most of the access to broadband Internet service.  I’m not a proponent of additional regulations, but I also don’t like monopolistic enterprises who lack oversight.

The ruling by the FCC won’t take effect for months, until after they regulatory language is worked out and published, but already Comcast, Time-Warner and many other ISPs are lining up to take the FCC to court, so there’s still a lot to happen before anything is finalized.  In the meantime, let’s enjoy the Internet as it exists while we have it!

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