The Internet is the Internet, whether accessed on a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop PC. And the Internet, it seems, is in trouble.
When we last left this story in January, a U.S. Court of Appeals had just struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order—at least the part about common carrier legislation for that country’s broadband providers. Now, according to The Wall Street Journal—and other sources not behind a paywall—a new draft of the Open Internet Order circulating within the FCC could end net neutrality as we know it.
In case you’re foggy on the concept of net neutrality, think of the Internet as a dumb pipe/series of tubes/whatever… The principle of net neutrality is that all traffic on the network is treated equally; your Facebook selfie is no more or less important than the latest House of Cards episode from Netflix. Such an environment has allowed all sorts of crazy ideas—from electronic mail to 4K streaming video—to flourish.
An Internet “fast lane”—enabled by granting ISPs the right to charge access fees to Netflix, YouTube, whomever—could make your Internet look more like this:
Does anyone, apart from big ISPs, think this is a good idea?
News of the new Open Internet Order draft immediately put FCC chairman Tom Wheeler on his heels. In an April 24th blog post he writes the following:
There has been a great deal of misinformation that has recently surfaced regarding the draft Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we will today circulate to the Commission.
Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society did a pretty great job of dissecting the nuts and bolts of Chairman Wheeler’s post, along with the proposed changes to the Open Internet Order itself. You can (and should) read it in its entirety.
What Could Have Been/Still Can Be
The consensus I’m reading from various sources is that all this could have been avoided had the FCC chosen to reclassify broadband ISPs as common carriage providers—that is, dumb pipes. Makes sense to me. And it’s not too late for the FCC to do this.
Because America, That’s Why
Why should those of us who don’t reside in the U.S. care about any of this? Is the Internet not a global network? Sure it is, but for whatever reason—Silicon Valley, ICANN—the USA has become the de facto governor of this network of networks.
A Canadian Angle
For fellow Canadians, some potentially good news from Professor Michael Geist:
The reality is that Canada’s net neutrality rules are broader in scope than the U.S. proposal. The Canadian net neutrality rules and their enforcement are certainly not perfect, but the Canadian rules (called Internet traffic management practices or ITMPs) are better than those found in the U.S. and may provide a competitive advantage for Internet companies seeking a market without paid prioritization.
I should also remind you that the CRTC is currently considering a complaint by forums member Ben Klass in regards to Bell’s mobile TV service.
The proposed changes to the Open Internet Order will be subject to an internal vote on May 15th. After that, it will pass for public comment—according to Gigaom the comment period could be anywhere from 30 to 90 days. And with activist groups already mobilizing it’s pretty clear that there will be no shortage of comments from the public.
In other words, this ain’t over yet…