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Verizon, The Unintended Catalyst Of Strong Net Neutrality Laws (Op Ed)

Back in 2006, Google began fighting for net neutrality, fearing that Verizon and AT&T could start blocking competing services. However, when Verizon became an important partner for Android, Google allied with Verizon to write and propose some rules for net neutrality that left few consumer protections for wireless customers. Most of the net neutrality protections in their proposal would apply only to cable customers.

Google's and Verizon's argument then was that wireless networks were still much slower than cable Internet and had lower capacity, and therefore the carriers had to do more aggressive traffic management to provide a better service.

Soon after Google's and Verizon's proposal, the FCC passed the Open Internet Order (pdf) that looked quite similar to what the two companies had proposed, but it didn't make Verizon happy. As both a broadband Internet provider and a wireless carrier, Verizon didn't like the rule that said it can't block the services or apps it wants. Therefore, it challenged the FCC's statutory authority to regulate the ISPs in court.

Because the FCC had previously classified ISPs under Title I of the Communications Act of 1934, rather than Title II, the court agreed with Verizon last year that the FCC couldn't regulate ISPs as if they were common carriers. Of course, Verizon was thrilled with the result then, but little did the company know that the lawsuit would spark a chain of events that could now force Verizon and other carriers to abide by many more consumer protections than the 2010 Open Internet Order did.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently announced the "strongest" net neutrality plan ever proposed by the agency. Not only that, but all of the new rules and consumer protections will fully apply to wireless carriers, as well. At this point, Verizon may be wishing it had never attempted to question the FCC's authority at all, because that's what is now causing the FCC to reclassify carriers and ISPs under Title 2 as common carriers.

Neither Verizon nor AT&T seem to accept the decision, which isn't surprising, and they both threatened to sue the FCC soon after Wheeler made public his plan. However, this time, it should be much more difficult for Verizon and AT&T to win in court, because the agency did exactly what the previous court said that it needed to do in order to properly regulate the Internet providers: reclassify them under Title 2.

The other two options for the carriers are to convince three of the FCC members to side with them. The FCC is split 3:2 politically right now, favoring net neutrality, and there's little chance for that to change by the time this net neutrality issue is decided later this month.

The other option would be to get the Republican-dominated House and Senate to pass a law that would stop the FCC from heavily regulating the carriers. Although the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their political inclinations, seem to support net neutrality, it is possible that such a law could pass. However, it's unlikely that it will have very strong majority support in Congress, so President Obama, who already asked for strong net neutrality laws a few months ago, would veto it.

Nothing is certain until the whole situation settles, but right now there's a strong chance that Wheeler's net neutrality rules are going to pass and are going to stick, possibly even with a Republican president if Internet users once again show strong support for the issue.

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Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.