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FCC: Four more months of bickering about net-neut

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 1:47pm
Brian Santo

The Federal Communications Commission hasn’t blown up the Internet yet. The agency has launched a formal rulemaking, which means it has not made any rules and it won’t, not until after four months of public debate.

As if there hasn’t been any of that in the last few weeks. Network neutrality advocates insist the Internet has already been destroyed (if you’re reading this on the Internet, congratulations). Meanwhile the industry is behaving as if FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s willingness to consider reclassifying broadband as a Title II service is a done deal, tantamount to The Apocalypse, the return of Hydra, and the cancellation of “Community” all rolled into the worst disaster since an asteroid ended the Cretaceous.  

Wheeler has made explicit in official FCC documents and in public appearances that Title II reclassification, which would subject broadband to a more restrictive regulatory regime, is on the table only as an option should the industry refuse to accede to network neutrality principles.

The storyline, in the news if not in reality, is that Wheeler wants new regulations that could create so-called fast lanes for Internet traffic from websites that can afford to pay for the privilege.

There’s no telling for sure if that’s what the FCC actually wants, especially since it is explicitly asking for comment whether “paid prioritization should be banned outright.”

It remains unclear where the fast-lane argument stems from. It might be a misinterpretation of how peering arrangements among service providers work, but there's little in what the FCC is actually saying (or writing) that clarifies the objection, let alone what is being objected to.

Often lost in all the death-of-the-Internet rhetoric is that Wheeler intends to nullify state laws that prevent local governments from establishing broadband service.

After the 120-day period ends, the FCC will revise the proposal and vote on a final set of rules. Wheeler has said he wants the rules in place by the end of this year.

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