Network Neutrality Debate Descends Into Political Shoving Match

NEWS ANALYSIS: Who would you trust to protect your Internet access, politicians or Internet service providers? Or perhaps the best answer is "none of the above?"

Net NeutralityB

Every so often here in Washington, D.C., you get the overwhelming urge to wish a pox on the houses of both sides of an issue. The current debate on network neutrality is one of those issues.

Politicians on both sides of the network neutrality debate are turning what should be a discussion on finding ways to further the interests of technology users into a political shoving match.

For reasons that remain unclear, President Obama issued a statement shortly after leaving on a trip to Asia that attempted to pressure the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into adopting Title II as a way to include Internet service providers (ISPs) in existing neutrality regulations. Title II refers to the Communications Act, which gives the FCC the power to regulate communications in the U.S. Title II was originally intended to make sure that telephone companies provided service to anyone in their coverage area.

"We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality."

How should the FCC do this according to Obama's statement?

"I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act—while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services."

What Obama is asking the FCC to do is to apply part of Title II to the Internet, but not all of it. Exactly how the agency should choose which parts of Title II to enforce and which parts not to enforce is left as an exercise for the reader.

The FCC, for its part, pointed out that it is an independent agency. "We will incorporate the President's submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding," Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement responding to the President's statement.

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) reacted by calling the administration's position on net neutrality "Obamacare for the Internet."

Organizations of all stripes are taking positions on the FCC's Open Internet process. The TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) has come out against classifying the Internet as a utility (which is what Title II would do), saying it would harm consumers and calling such a thing a "failed policy."

On the other hand. Common Cause and the CCIA (Computer and Communications Industry Association) thinks that regulating the Internet under Title II is a good idea. "A groundswell of millions of comments supporting the Open Internet is evidence of the importance of having effective rules preventing paid prioritization and discriminatory treatment," CCIA President and CEO Ed Black said in a prepared statement that urged the FCC to move to include ISPs under Title II.

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...