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Have We Already Lost The Battle For Net Neutrality? (Op Ed)

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!"

Follow Niels Broekhuijsen @NBroekhuijsen. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • tomc100
    Net neutrality sounds like a good idea but when the federal government gets involved with it then it is subject to abuse like every other federal regulation. It's better to keep the federal government out. The solution is to have more competition and more ISP instead of allowing a monopoly between Time/Warner and Comcast. Or the government can create their own ISP instead of wasting it on useless foreign countries and illegal aliens.
    Reply
  • qlum
    Lets Just hops the EU does't mess up the dutch neutrality now that Nelie is gone.

    <<Watch your language please>>
    Reply
  • The Ginger
    As soon as you "start to think that the FCC is just putting off the inevitable – the end of net neutrality" then they win. We cannot stop fighting this.. Its not the FCC that's postponing the end of net neutrality.. its ISP's postponing free global internet.

    EDIT: Maybe "free" was the wrong word.. -- "postponing cheap, globally available internet."
    Reply
  • Daniel Hitchcock
    tomc, that's the problem--there will be no competition since there is no way the infrastructure can support multiple cable companies. Same reason why there is one set of roads, one gas line, and one electrical grid. What would happen suddenly electricity costs climbed to a Dollar a kW/hr, or if gas and water prices double and there was a toll to even leave your driveway? That's the point-- that can't happen since they are classified as public utilities, and the goal of the FCC is to establish the internet as such. This shouldn't be a partisan issue (thanks, Ted Cruz).
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  • dovah-chan
    What exactly do these companies need all of this money for if they aren't upgrading their infrastructure and providing quality customer service like they should be? Are they just burning it or something? I guess its either advertising or promotional events and paying their poor indentured serv- I mean employees.
    Reply
  • BulkZerker
    Well a good starting point would to make states resend their local laws making it prohibitive to be a startup tellcom.

    And maybe forcibly fracturing the "baby bells" even further.
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  • Anameforthefield Banothernameforthefield
    If you think the Internet is 'threatened' by citizen organizations (private business) that have to provide a product that people are willing to freely pay for, wait until the Government gets involved. Nothing good will come of the FCC even knowing about the Internet.
    Reply
  • haftarun8
    Daniel Hitchcock you are absolutely correct!!! I have no idea why most people don't understand this...tomc100 you say you don't want Federal regulation but you want healthy competition without monopolies...you do realize that the only way to guarantee the latter is to implement federal regulation that prevents monopolies and gives incentives that spur healthy capitalist compeition?! You won't magically get that any other way. CEO's are way too greedy and have way too much money and power...why would they ever give that up unless they had to under federal law?
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  • Farrwalker
    The author states:
    "The issue is that the ISPs shouldn't charge the content providers in order to give them equal access." This is conclusory statement and not stating the issue.
    More properly worded the issue is:
    Whether the ISPs should charge the content providers in order to give them equal access.
    Avoid using negatives when you can.

    This leads to another question:
    Who is better suited to determine access to the internet the companies who built and own the internet infrastructure at the cost of billions of dollars, or a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats?

    One issue that is ignored here is where does the federal government get the power to interfere in private enterprise? The internet infrastructure was built predominantly with billions of dollars of private investment. The internet is not public property.
    Reply
  • The Ginger
    The internet cords themselves might not be public property, thats not what this is about.. Its the Bits that travel through them that we are trying to make public. Very much un-like most of the other first world countries who have free wifi covering most major cities and internet speed 4x-10x faster than ours for less money is the issue we're facing in the US..

    Having Time Warner and Comcast Merge would be like letting one single power provider own half the US infrastructure for electricity like Daniel suggested... We're just heading in the wrong direction.
    Reply