As the net neutrality debate continues, it's starting to seem more and more that a U.S. with proper net neutrality rules in place is some sort of utopian future that we'll never reach. Why do we say this? Well, hasn't all of it been taking awfully long to settle, for something that really shouldn't have been much of an issue in the first place?
Tom Wheeler's latest words also don't inspire much confidence. "Let's make sure that we understand what is going on here. The big dogs are going to sue regardless of what comes out," said the chairman of the FCC. "We need to make sure that we have sustainable rules, and that starts with making sure that we have addressed the multiplicity of issues that come along and are likely to be raised."
In other words, Wheeler is afraid that ISPs will sue the FCC if it chooses to implement the proposed regulations and rules for net neutrality. Under the current regulations, broadband cable ISPs such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T have the ability to build so-called "fast lanes," where they charge content providers such as Netflix for equal access to their networks. Many of these content providers already have deals with the ISPs in order to get fast-enough connections to their customers to offer an acceptable experience.
The issue is that the ISPs shouldn't charge the content providers in order to give them equal access. The ISPs' customers pay them to connect them to the Internet, which includes services offered by these content providers. By building fast lanes, the ISPs have the power to control which content providers get proper access to the network and which don't, giving them an unreasonable amount of power over online services. The idea behind net neutrality is that "all bits are created equal," which takes that power away from the ISPs. Understandably, ISPs aren't happy about it.
Obama's recent statement set some clear rules: ISPs should not block content (unless it is illegal), they shouldn't throttle any type of content, they should be more transparent about any deals with other service providers, and there should be no paid prioritization.
The rules even proposed Title II reclassification, which turns ISPs and carriers into telecommunications providers, forcing them to behave like public utility providers. Some believe that this is the only way that net neutrality will ever be enforceable; others believe we need the rules in place without Title II reclassification because it encourages competition.
The reason this Open Internet void exists in the first place is because in January a federal court decided to invalidate key parts of the FCC's Open Internet order, which had been in place since 2010.
Tom Wheeler, who was appointed chairman of the FCC by Obama himself, often claims to stand behind an Open Internet, and he says he is fighting for net neutrality, but all we are seeing is excuses whenever a decision needs to be made.
Can we blame Wheeler for worrying over getting the FCC sued? No, that's part of his job. What we can do, however, is blame him for letting that fear get in the way of implementing the suggested rules for an Open Internet, which is the other part of his job. The FCC had previously paused the decision-making process to take more time to find a solution that's safer against lawsuits, but as time progresses, I'm starting to think that the FCC is just putting off the inevitable – the end of net neutrality. Somebody needs to put their foot down and tell the ISPs: "This is now the law. You don't like it? Too bad!"