The Federal Communications Commission is the governing body for all types of communication at the federal level. The most recent subject to come before the FCC is the idea known as “net neutrality.” Just as the name implies, net neutrality means ensuring that all internet data and all internet users are treated equally, without any special considerations regarding
user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.
It sounds easy and even seems fair, but the debate about this issue is hot and ongoing because nothing about government regulations is as simple as it seems.
Today the FCC voted on a bipartisan agreement of net neutrality, though the subject is now open for discussion for the next four months, at which time the FCC will meet again to conduct a final vote on this issue.
The goal of this proposal is laudable, as it is designed to protect consumers from any kind of interference by a third party through double-paying or through restricting access. As always, though, there are plenty of potential pitfalls in the agreement. While I’m certainly not a technology expert, it does seem to me that proponents of net neutrality are the ones who are playing a little fast and loose with the language of the agreement.
For example, one sticking point in these debates is the potential for what are called “fast lanes,” which can be bought and paid for by big corporations or entities in order to restrict (in terms of payment or of what is passed through the pipeline, so to speak) what consumers can access on the internet.
The potential trouble with these regulations, I think, comes from the allowance for “paid prioritization” on these “fast lanes.” In a loose rendition of George Orwell’s statement in Animal Farm, it seems quite possible that “all people have access, but some people have more access than others.” This provision does, indeed, suggest at least the possibility for a financially elite slippery slope.
Note this comment by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:
"There is nothing in this rule in this proposal that authorizes fast lanes," he said.
Of course, the implication is that there is also nothing in the proposal that would prevent them. Wheeler does continue, saying:
"we ask the question, 'Should there be a ban on paid prioritization?' Talk to me after we get the input on those questions."
On the other hand, the FCC does seem to want to protect consumers from unscrupulous providers. Wheeler claims that he expects this proposal will mandate that it is
unreasonable to charge a content provider to use bandwidth a consumer has already paid for.
In all, I’m glad the debate is hot and has time to develop before anything is enacted permanently. Unrestricted access and paid prioritization do seem to be strange bedfellows.