Despite what some politicians and pundits are saying, the FCC’s vote on net neutrality is neither a government takeover of the Internet nor a complete sell-out to the telecommunications industry. Like President Obama who appointed him, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is a pragmatist who fashioned a compromise that doesn’t go nearly as far as some would like while providing some protections for consumers and businesses against broadband providers discriminating for or against certain types of Internet traffic.
Immediate Republican Opposition
Net neutrality advocates ought to be able to find something they like considering that moments after the vote, Republican leaders, including incoming speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) condemned the vote while, according to Politico, Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the incoming chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced plans to bring all five commissioners before his committee to discuss net neutrality at “the first hearing out of the box” next year. Republican Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) reportedly warned the Senate that the Obama administration is on the verge of nationalizing the Internet
Prior to the vote, Republican FCC Commissioner, Robert McDowell, in reference to a major astronomical event that took place earlier, said “not only is today the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, but it marks one of the darkest days in recent FCC history.” He added, “to say that today’s rules don’t regulate the Internet is like saying that regulating highway on-ramps, off-ramps, and its pavement doesn’t equate to regulating the highways themselves.”
Even though he felt it didn’t go far enough, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, reluctantly voted in favor of the ruling saying he “would have preferred a general ban to discourage broadband providers from engaging in “pay for priority”–prioritizing the traffic of those with deep pockets while consigning the rest of us to a slower, second-class Internet.” He also said “we should have done more to strip loopholes from the definition of ‘broadband Internet access service’ to prevent companies falsely claiming they are not broadband companies from slipping through. He also expressed disappointment about “something less than a bright-line nondiscrimination rule, keeping ‘reasonable network management’ within bounds, and the substitution of monitoring for the certainty of enforcement in too many areas.”
Copps pointed to what he called “the many improvements to the Order we achieved,” including his conclusion that “pay for priority” arrangements “would generally violate our ‘no unreasonable discrimination’ rule. He said that network neutrality supporters were able to “change the text of the definition of ‘broadband Internet access service’ to close a loophole that, while protecting residential customers, would have jeopardized the open Internet rights of small businesses, educational institutions and libraries.” He also praised the ruling’s expansion of transparency requirements “to give consumers the information they need to make an informed choice by requiring disclosure on the broadband provider’s website and also at the point of sale.”
Copps is one of many critics upset that the rules are not as strong on the mobile side as they are for the fixed Internet. “There is one Internet, he said, “which should remain open for consumers and innovators alike, although it may be accessed through different technologies and services.”
Health Care-like Progress
Just as with the health care bill, there were people on both sides who are unhappy with the final outcome because it either didn’t go far enough or went much too far. Personally, I agree with my Congresswoman, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) who expressed concern “that the FCC missed an opportunity today to set out strong rules of the road” and that “the order will allow loopholes for internet service providers to carve up the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes to serve their private purposes, not the best interests of consumers.” But like Eshoo, I agree that “something is better than nothing.”
Just because the extremes disagree doesn’t mean that what the FCC came up with was correct, but it does mean that some progress, however, tepid, was made.