Net Neutrality Proponents Spurning FCC Proposal for Wrong Reasons

NEWS ANALYSIS: The net neutrality debate has been raging for over a decade, and it's still no closer to resolution. Even now, a central question is whether paying more for faster service somehow violates net neutrality.

Before the Federal Communications Commission even had a chance to look at the revised Open Internet rules being proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the agency was already being slammed by advocacy groups on what they thought he might propose.

In fact Common Cause was calling the proposal "a major step backward." Those rules would allow ISPs to negotiate fees for major bandwidth users such as Netflix and YouTube to assure they have access to Web capacity. But is this really the case?

Common Cause has trotted out a former FCC commissioner, Michael Copps, now an advisor to the organization, who said in a statement released to the media, "If the commission subverts the Open Internet by creating a fast lane for the 1 percent and slow lanes for the 99 percent, it would be an insult to both citizens and to the promise of the Net."

The organization then suggests that Wheeler's proposals, which would allow major users to pay for their increased needs, somehow threaten democracy itself.

As you might expect, FCC Chairman Wheeler disagrees, calling such suggestions, "flat out wrong." What Wheeler lays out in a blog entry is that he's proposing some changes in the commission's rules that would allow payments for bandwidth as long as they're "commercially reasonable."

However, he notes that the FCC would not allow unfair pricing and would prohibit any blocking of legal content. In addition, his proposal would prohibit unreasonable charges or any actions that harm consumers. Wheeler also said in his blog entry that pricing must be transparent to customers.

Wheeler also notes that the FCC is constrained in the actions it can take following a ruling earlier this year by the U.S. Court of Appeals that struck down efforts by the commission to make Internet providers subject to the same rules as common carriers, such as phone companies, without actually classifying them that way.

Because of the ruling, the commission basically had to choose whether to make the Internet into a land of common carriers, or to find some other way to get a handle on the ISPs that control much of what consumers get to do.

The problem is that advocacy groups such as Common Cause don't appear to have a grasp on reality, nor do they understand how the Internet today works. For example, the suggestion by former Commissioner Copps that the proposed changes to the Open Internet rules allowing ISPs to negotiate bandwidth charges with major users such as Netflix or YouTube ignores the fact that these services account for more than 50 percent of all Internet traffic at some times during the day. That's hardly the 1 percent Copps suggests.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...