The End Of Net Neutrality
On May 15th of this year FCC regulators voted to ban a proposal by internet providers to slow the speed of any website but will allow service providers to charge a fee to any company for a so called internet fast lane. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/15/us-usa-internet-neutrality-idUSBREA4C0SF20140515 . This priority tier system will not only deliver faster service but will also deliver information more reliably than what will be offered for those on a second tier, i.e. anyone who can’t afford the charge. Moments after the vote, a protest broke out by those who oppose the decision. In fact there had been several petition signing and letter writing campaigns opposing this law shortly after parts of the plan was leaked to the public. The fear over this move is that larger companies can further consolidate their already overwhelming financial control of everyday life in the US. The internet was after all suppose to be the last chance for true democracy but is quickly becoming another commodity. The decision is also expected to greatly reduce competition in the telecommunication sector due to the mergers of several companies over the years. One such example is AT&T’s $50 billion dollar deal to buy out the satellite television provider Direct TV. Even though the vote is now for all intents and purposes over there will be public hearings for the next four months so those concerned with the issue can voice their trepidation.
After listening to the fears of many public and consumer advocates, FCC chair Tom Wheeler has vowed not to create a divided system and in effect wants to keep the spirit of net neutrality in place according to one Reuter’s report, “I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised,"
His assurance is not going over well with the plans biggest vocal critic, Al Franken who was interviewed on the independent news program Democracy Now hosted by Amy Goodman. Franken stated that the plan had been “leaked” two weeks before the vote was taken. He went on to state that these new rules are the antithesis to net neutrality, “And what Chairman Wheeler is talking about is allowing a fast lane, and it would be deep-pocketed corporations that would be able to buy this. And so, information would come to viewers from big corporations faster, or consumers…” Franken went on to speak about some of the innovations thanks to net neutrality including the creation of youtube. http://www.democracynow.org/2014/5/20/sen_al_franken_media_mega_mergers# . When asked about Wheeler’s denial that this plan will create a tier system Franken stated that the FCC head’s remarks were not understandable since the FCC would have no real way of governing how these businesses provide internet services. Further he pointed out the question of net neutrality could be solved by simply classifying the internet as a telecommunications service which would allow the FCC to actually regulate how these companies provide open access to the internet. Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell who is the current head of the internet provider’s lobby firm, “National Cable and Telecommunications Association” rejected such a plan while he headed the FCC under the Bush administration.
On April 25th of this year, Democracy Now hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez posted a piece on Alternet.com as a warning about possible repercussions, titled “Internet For the 1 Percent: New FCC Rules Strike Down Net Neutrality, Opening Fast Lanes for Fees”. In the article, the authors pointed out that cable giants Verizon and Comcast now can charge a fast lane fee for companies like Netflix and Amzazon.com if they want to continue to enjoy their current quality of services. As somewhat of a side note, Netflix has already reached a deal with Comcast to pay the fee.http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/internet-1-percent-new-fcc-rules-strike-down-net-neutrality-opening-fast-lanes?akid=11770.231999.iwb7qX&rd=1&src=newsletter988326&t=3 . Retired FCC chairman Michael Copps was quoted in the piece as saying, “What we’re really seeing here is the transformation of the Internet where the 1 percent get the fast lanes, and the 99 percent get the slow lanes”. You can watch the entire interview on the video below.
Celia Kang of the Washington Post reported in a May 15th article titled “FCC approves plan to consider paid priority on Internet” that even though the vote already occurred 3-2 along party lines, some of the language to the new rules could be rewritten if the out outcry from the public is loud enough during the four month hearing period. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/05/15/fcc-approves-plan-to-allow-for-paid-priority-on-internet/ . Such outrage over the deal is expected to be shown during these hearings since earlier protests forced Wheeler to declare that he wouldn’t accept the slowdown of services to those sites that are owned by entities who can’t pay for the fast lane.
The new rules will bar any cable company from blocking websites who depend on what amounts to a second tier internet service. He was quoted as saying, “The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable." Critics of the deal aren’t buying into Wheeler’s promise and that these new rules will affect how the internet is run and we could see the end of equal service to everyone on the net. If the deal stands as it is written now, deals such as the one between AT&T and Comcast along with Time Warner will become more commonplace as will deals between web content providers Google and Facebook. The prospects for these kinds of deals are already creating anger by investors in Silicone Valley according to Kang’s report. They claim that there is a fear that smaller companies will be greatly hurt and will be forced to pass the charges onto their customers in what would be a Ronald Reagan style trickle-down effect.
Only time will tell how this shakes out. Even one Democrat who sits on the FCC board now says he wishes he had more time to review the proposal which he voted for but may have voted the other way if he knew more about what was in the plan. In fact a few other Democrats are showing misgivings about these rule changes which in the end could kill the deal altogether.
Until next time…