With a 3 to 2 vote earlier today, the FCC has put its stamp of approval on Net Neutrality. The funny thing is that it seems both “sides” of the debate are upset. On one hand you’ve got the detractors who say it’s nothing but an “unholy scheme” designed to bring the Internet under the unnecessary (if not unlawful) control of the government. A bit dramatic, but OK. On the other hand you’ve got Net Neutrality proponents who say the new rules don’t go far enough to protect consumers from abuse.
We’re already familiar with what the detractors have to say: this is a government takeover, and we’re all one step closer to a Hugo Chavez-style takeover over the media. Or, less hysterically, the Internet isn’t “broken,” so why should the FCC—which may not even have the legal authority for evoke Net Neutrality—waste time trying to “fix” it?
Proponents of Net Neutrality are just as disappointed with the ruling. The Free Press, a “national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media,” says that this is nothing less than a “squandered opportunity.”
Says the origination’s managing director, Craig Aaron:
We are deeply disappointed that the chairman chose to ignore the overwhelming public support for real Net Neutrality, instead moving forward with industry-written rules that will for the first time in Internet history allow discrimination online. This proceeding was a squandered opportunity to enact clear, meaningful rules to safeguard the Internet’s level playing field and protect consumers.
The new rules are riddled with loopholes, evidence that the chairman sought approval from AT&T instead of listening to the millions of Americans who asked for real Net Neutrality. These rules don’t do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination. No longer can you get to the same Internet via your mobile device as you can via your laptop. The rules pave the way for AT&T to block your access to third-party applications and to require you to use its own preferred applications.
Harsh words, to be sure.
The New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity [PDF]has also expressed disappointment, calling the new rules “tepid,” and has focused on one specific aspect of the decision: managed services. What in the nine hecks are “managed services”?
The new but not-yet-properly-defined “managed service” exemption may amount to the first step down a slippery slope of non-neutral Internet service. The exemption should be carefully tailored to address only a small number of special categories of applications that cannot operate under the existing open framework.
Ars Technica discussed “managed services” at length a few days ago. In short, a “managed service” could be construed to mean things like VPNs, VoIP, and video streaming. The problem with Net Neutrality, as it was just passed, pays no attention to these services whatsoever. It lets companies do whatever they want with last-mile traffic. If your local cable company, which just so happens to be the only Internet Service Provider in the area, decides to charge, I don’t know, $5 per month for the ability to make VoIP call on its network, well, it can! (You’re free, of course, to sign up for the cable company’s “triple play,” which includes free VoIP from its preferred provider.)
In other words, there really aren’t any winners today. To some people, we’re some step closer to having Big Brother punch us in the face every morning, and to others the FCC has just wasted a whole bunch of time and energy doing a whole lot of nothing.