The net neutrality debate is not over, even though Tom Wheeler, the Federal Communications Commission’s Chairman, announced yesterday in an op-ed piece penned for Wired that the Commission would vote on new potential regulations February 26.
This announcement comes despite the GOP’s urging the FCC to wait on the vote, according to CBS News, with a promise that the new Republican-led congress would take the issue up with “new legislation,” already in the works.
The vote, according to the Verge, would mean the FCC classifying the Internet – the transmission networks that allow data to flow, more specifically – as a public utility under Title II, the same way that electric and gas are regulated.
The GOP backs both sides of the debate over net neutrality, but Republicans on the “no” side slammed Wheeler’s decision, saying it was a simple “power grab” in an effort to pander to President Obama and the left. According to the National Journal, Greg Walden, chairman of the House Commerce Communications Subcommittee, said that Wheeler rejected all calls for transparency.
The following is according to CBS News.
“‘Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to regulate the Internet as a public utility is not about net neutrality—it is a power grab for the federal government by the chairman of a supposedly independent agency who finally succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself,’ said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune in a statement.”
Rep. Fred Upton, the House Energy and Commerce Chairman, and Rep. John Thune, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman, were particularly incensed that Wheeler decided to hold the vote.
Thune and Upton drafted the GOP net neutrality legislation that would serve up many of the same regulations Wheeler proposed on a silver platter to Democrats. Such rules as banning payment for faster internet, stopping ISPs from blocking or slowing down websites, traffic, and content would be included.
A potentially more pressing net neutrality debate today is the sole difference between Wheeler’s proposal and the GOP-led legislation, which essentially regulates the FCC itself and controls how much power it would have over the Internet.
While Wheeler’s proposal uses Title II to classify the Internet as a utility, the GOP led legislation leaves the Internet classified as an “information service.” Wheeler’s proposal gives the FCC sole regulatory power over the Internet, while the GOP legislation would stop the FCC from making rules in the future.
“The bill would effectively hamstring the agency from amending the rules, even as new, unanticipated challenges in online communications emerge.”
Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, took up the debate over net neutrality as well. He asked how the GOP bill future-proofs discrimination, since the bill has “easily exploitable loopholes.” Dickerson said the following to CBS News.
“For example, under this bill, broadband companies could prioritize their own services over others.”
While GOP lawmakers want to stop the FCC from regulating the Internet, indeed, Congress gave the FCC the ability to do so in the first place, Wheeler notes in the op-ed piece he penned for Wired. He states as follows.
“The Congress gave the FCC broad authority to update its rules to reflect changes in technology and marketplace behavior in a way that protects consumers.”
On the other hand, Wheeler also knows that businesses are understandably motivated to maximize their interests – read: profit – and should the FCC rules change and pass the vote at the end of the month, the FCC would largely leave the business end of the Internet alone.
Essentially, as a utility, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, and every other ISP in the United States would likely be at the mercy of the Public Utility Commission of each state in which the company operates, which is controlled by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. The state PUCs have rules the ISPs will likely have to follow, which could mean the fair treatment ISP consumers have demanded for years.
The net neutrality debate is far from over, and, according to Ars Technica, likely faces court challenges from naysayers like AT&T if the rules pass the vote February 26. The FCC would not regulate ISP rates, which could mean an eventual compromise between the two camps.