Net neutrality and the legal fight that surrounds it is something that can’t be explained so easily. In essence, the Federal Communications Commission believes that it has the power to establish some basic rules on user access to the Internet. Internet providers, however, feel that they can regulate themselves and that the intrusion of federal government officials into their businesses is simply unacceptable.
However, last year, Verizon (with Google) unveiled some solutions to the net neutrality debate that, it believed, would help solve the problem once and for all. Much to the surprise of those who have been following net neutrality over the years, the FCC adopted many of the ideas that Verizon first set forth last year. All seemed to be good.
But now Verizon has decided to challenge the FCC’s rules, saying that they are “contrary to constitutional right.” And further inspection reveals that neither party-Verizon nor the FCC-has made itself look good in this battle. Moreover, the entire net-neutrality debate is once again coming to the fore. It’s looking like just one big bundle of bad.
Read on to find out why.
1. It’s basically Verizon’s idea.
If one compares what Verizon first proposed last year, and what the FCC eventually ruled on the topic of net neutrality, they wouldn’t find many differences. In fact, the only major difference between the two proposals was that Verizon’s option, which was done in tandem with Google, asked that the FCC not have “rulemaking authority.” That is something that the FCC largely ignored. But given the rest of the similarities, one might rightfully ask why Verizon is so upset about something that, if its previous proposal is to be considered, is something it should be quite happy about.
2. It makes Verizon look greedy.
Verizon’s decision to argue in court about the FCC’s net neutrality rules makes the company look greedy. It’s as if its first concern is its own financial health, which Verizon seemingly believes the FCC will negatively affect, rather than what might be right for the Internet. Admittedly, such a response isn’t much of a surprise, considering Verizon is a corporation with responsibilities to shareholders. But this latest lawsuit, right or not, makes it look greedy. And that’s something its PR team must address.
3. Was the FCC right in the first place?
Verizon’s challenge to the FCC rules prompts some to wonder if the government organization was right to offer up solutions to net neutrality in the first place. The FCC’s solution attempts to prevent service providers from blocking access to lawful content, services or applications. It also tries to stop providers from “unreasonably discriminat[ing] in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.” But with Verizon’s latest suit, the debate now turns to whether the FCC should have the right to impose such restrictions on companies. Verizon certainly doesn’t think it should.
4. The court choice is suspect.
If nothing else,Verizon’s decision to choose the same court that ruled in Comcast’s favor in a previous net-neutrality complaint and even request the same judges is something that doesn’t make the company look good. From a legal perspective, it’s the smart move, since Verizon has found a court that might be more sympathetic to its argument. But by potentially stacking the cards against the FCC, it looks like the bully. And that’s something it doesn’t need right now from a PR perspective.
No Matter What, Internet User Needs Ignored
5. What about the consumers?
Lost amid the conversation over whether the FCC or Verizon is right in their arguments on net neutrality is the consumer. What is really right for the average customer who is paying service providers fees every month for access to the Internet? The FCC believes it’s acting in the favor of the average U.S. consumer. But that’s debatable. Much of what has been said so far revolves around the power of corporations compared to that of government organizations. All the while, the consumer and the business customer are the pawns in that game.
6. Verizon can’t be trusted.
Verizon contends that it and the industry have the ability to manage themselves when it comes to net neutrality. But let’s face it: What have Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and the like done to earn that trust? ISPs are among the most disliked organizations in the world, and a key component in the entire net-neutrality debate whether to place even minimal regulation on their operation. Sorry, but until Verizon proves it can be trusted to do the right thing for consumers, it probably should be managed by some sort of higher authority.
7. The FCC can’t be trusted.
Of course, deciding which higher authority should manage Verizon is tough to say. As mentioned, the FCC’s rules regarding net neutrality are strikingly similar to those that Verizon and Google suggested last year. In light of that, some might be right to wonder if the government organization is really looking out for customers or simply giving them a few benefits without actually doing enough to change the state of Web access in the United States. Until the FCC can prove that it’s willing to dismiss corporate desire and offer something on its own, who knows if it can be trusted?
8. It’s a deregulation argument.
Over the past few years, as the Great Recession affected millions around the globe, the issue of “deregulation” became a hot topic. Folks on either side of the debate made equally compelling arguments as to why regulation is or is not necessary. Verizon’s argument against the FCC is one of deregulation, as well. The company and its competitors want to regulate themselves. But now some might wonder if the deregulation argument that has dominated the financial sector should start making its way to the Web.
9. It’s Comcast all over again.
Last year, the same court that Verizon has brought its suit to ruled in favor of Comcast in its own fight against the FCC. The court ruled unanimously that the government organization overstepped its boundaries by cracking down on the service provider for impeding some of its customers’ ability to access Web traffic. It was a ruling that was panned by many in the FCC’s corner, and it helped fuel the debate over net neutrality. This time around, Verizon is hoping to follow in Comcast’s footsteps with a victory of its own. But unlike Comcast, which got a black eye over its court battle, Verizon must ensure that it doesn’t come out of its own legal bout looking anti-consumer. Not only would it hurt the company from a brand-perception perspective, but being viewed as anti-consumer could push customers with alternative service options elsewhere. The risk simply isn’t worth the reward.
10. It doesn’t push the solution forward.
Even after the FCC offered up its own solution for net neutrality, the debate over what needed to be done wasn’t over. But if nothing else, the FCC at least got the ball rolling toward some kind of solution. Realizing that, Verizon’s decision to start a legal battle over net neutrality isn’t helping matters much, and it could push a solution even further away. And those on both sides of the debate can agree that pushing a real solution away is something that just won’t work right now.