Oh hey! Happy Friday. And not in an ironic way.
While most days we find ourselves confronted with society's woeful inability to manage our own Frankenstein, and generally terrifying implications for our future, the Federal Communications Commission has finally—after a year-long morass of debate and creeping corruption—passed net neutrality rules that will prohibit greedy bastard Internet service providers from granting faster access to companies that are able to pay for this privilege.
Not so surprisingly, the FCC commissioners voted in lockstep with party lines; three Democrats voted in favor of the prohibition and two Republicans voted against.
A quick and dirty lowdown: The American people—and policymakers—have been hotly debating net neutrality for a good 365 days. The general public believes the Internet is a new "public" service and serves as a fundamental democratizer; it's a virtual utopia where theoretically, everyone can have an equal voice and access to people to share it with. This is called net neutrality.
The FCC—and particularly the commission's chairman Tom Wheeler—has repeatedly gotten into hot water. Wheeler's proposal for an "Open Internet" sounds good, but is actually a euphemism for a classist, capitalistic wet dream. Basically, it would allow service providers to offer a "pay-to-play" option where—shocker!—the wealthiest people could have superior service to the rest of us peons. Oh, and large corporations would have faster websites and generally elbow out dissenters and other small-fish independents that are vital to keeping free speech alive and well.
On May 15 of last year, following a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC announced that pay-for-priority deals would be against the rules “until proven otherwise"—opening the door to ISPs potentially getting special treatment.
In September, the FCC held a 120-day purgatorial review to foster a "public debate" about how the Internet should be regulated in the wake of their pending decision. According to a report by the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog, open government advocacy organization, 99% of the 1.1 million comments submitted to the FCC were in favor of maintaining net neutrality.
Cut to today, where, of course, Internet bigwigs are none too pleased—in fact both AT&T and Verizon have taken serious umbrage with the decision. AT&T is currently previewing two pending lawsuits which basically argue that A) the FCC didn't pursue a proper analysis of all the ins and outs of their decision and B) whether these Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be classified as "common carriers" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which places them in the same category as utility companies like gas and electricity.
"The FCC today chose to change the way the commercial Internet has operated since its creation," said. "Changing a platform that has been so successful should be done, if at all, only after careful policy analysis, full transparency, and by the legislature, which is constitutionally charged with determining policy. As a result, it is likely that history will judge today's actions as misguided." — Verizon Senior Vice President Michael Glover
"Like so many problems in American government, the policy shift may relate to the pernicious corruption of the revolving door. The FCC is stocked with staffers who have recently worked for Internet Service Providers (ISP) that stand to benefit tremendously from the defeat of net neutrality."
On the other side of the fence is FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who is all about power to the people and banishing fascism—which from where I sit in Oakland, California, feels pretty damn good:
"There are countries where it is routine for government, not the consumer, to determine who has access and what kind of content can be accessed by its citizens. I am proud to be able to say we are not one of them."
As a brief reminder of what the implications are if the FCC were to reverse their decision under duress or due to the deluge of lawsuits about to descend . . . courtesy of The Economist.