Net neutrality is one of the key issues of our time, one that will have a seismic effect on how, and from who, we can get our information on the Internet going forward.
Unfortunately, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue, first saying that he will enforce Open Internet rules, then following that up with the idea of an "Internet fast lane," which would give Internet incumbents a major leg-up over newcomers, by creating a separate lane for those who can pay more.
This has not gone unnoticed, either by regular people, with 10,000 letters being sent to the FCC by MoveOn.org members, by some established Internet companies themselves, or by those in positions of power.
10 members of the United States Senate, all from the Democratic side of the aisle, sent an open letter to Wheeler on Friday, asking him to ditch the "fast lane" idea.
The letter was sent by Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chuck Shumer and Kristen Gillebrand of New York, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Al Franken of Minnesota, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut and Barbara Boxer of California.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which is supposed to help create an open Internet are necessary, the Senators wrote, but "will only be a positive step forward if you and your staff craft meaningful rules."
"Unfortunately, we fear that specific provisions of the NPRM may be insufficient to accomplish the task. The current Internet is a free market of products and ideas unparalleled in human history, and the FCC must preserve the type of Internet access that allows that marketplace to thrive," they said.
"Unfortunately, reports on your current proposal suggest it may have unintended, deleterious effects. While several posts and statements from the Chairman's office offer assurances about your goals, we worry that the NPRM language would permit broadband providers to collect new tolls from innovators, entrepreneurs and all manner of speakers on the Internet."
Specifically, the "paid prioritization arrangements" are very worrying, because they would "eradicate net neutrality, not preserve it."
"The genius of the Internet is that it allows innovation without permission, not innovation only after cutting a deal with the ISP and receiving the FCC's blessing for it," the Senators wrote. "Sanctioning paid prioritization would allow discrimination and irrevocably change the Internet as we know it."
What Wheeler is proposing, essentially, would create a two-tier system, though he says that is specifically what he wants to avoid.
"Prioritizing some traffic by forcing the rest of the traffic into a congested lane won’t be permitted under any proposed Open Internet rule. We will not allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service," he said during a keynote address at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Wednesday.
But, he seems to miss the point. By creating a fast lane for established companies, that inherently makes all of the other lanes slower in comparison. Even if they go at the same speed they are going now, it still puts them at a disadvantage going forward.
As my colleague Faith Merino previously wrote about this issue: "True: by creating a separate, empty highway for Apple, Comcast isn’t necessarily forcing other companies to drive slower by throwing spikes and flares on the main highway. It’s just allowing Apple to get there faster than everyone else, by virtue of the fact that it can pay for a private road. That’s kind of a problem, yo."
VatorNews has reached out to the FCC for comment on the letter. We will update if we learn more.
(Image source: newyorker.com)