Is the Net Neutrality Saga Finally Over?

by Matt Klassen on December 22, 2010

An epic tale that began with the Federal Communications Commission looking to solve a problem that had not materialized–and still has yet to materialize–in any substantial form, the FCC finally voted yesterday morning on Chairman Julius Genachowski’s latest iteration of his plan for an open and transparent Internet for all Americans; one that would prevent price gouging, arbitrary throttling and blocking of certain websites, and provide equal access to the available broadband spectrum for all users.

For those who have been following this soap opera-like story, it’s been a long road to get here, with Chairman Genachowski taking several unsuccessful stabs at developing a Net Neutrality policy that would Federal support.

So, after rewrites, notable concessions to a very vocal opposition, and effectively neutering the FCC of any real authority, Chairman Genachowski finally got his so-called Net Neutrality bill passed, a move that will ensure an open Internet for all…unless you use wireless of course.

The details of the new Net Neutrality legislation are similar to what I covered early this month when Chairman Genachowski first announced that he had a final draft of the Net Neutrality proposal for the FCC to officially vote on.

As mentioned then, this legislation will come down hard on broadband discrimination, meaning that providers will be prohibited from “blocking lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices.” It should be noted that blocking illegal peer-to-peer file sharing, the very point that sparked a veritable wild fire of Net Neutrality debates earlier this year, will not be prohibited.

Further, the proposal passed yesterday will demand increased transparency from network providers, demanding that they freely “disclose the details of their network management techniques,” which, in case you were wondering, will most likely be completely indecipherable to the average broadband user.

Finally, and very much connected to the first rule, any traffic management on the part of cable or Internet providers that “‘unfairly discriminates” against particular content will be prohibited.”

As I noted in my last report, wireless broadband providers will be notably exempt from this last rule, meaning that while wireless networks will still be expected to adhere to the same non-discrimination rules, there will be more flexibility for network management—i.e. limited wireless throttling will still be allowed.

So where does this leave us? With the authority of the FCC to even implement, let alone enforce, such rules still under question, the answer may be that we’re right back where we started, as its doubtful the FCC’s vote will stand up to any of the appeals that are sure to follow.

But despite its imminent appeal, while some rules are certainly necessary to manage fair and non-discriminatory access to the Internet, a vital piece of our society’s communication network, Chairman Genachowski so thoroughly and completely neutered this legislation in order to get it passed that it really doesn’t do anything anyways.

And the reality remains that all this was done to solve a problem that for the most part has yet to materialize, with the exception of Comcast’s public indiscretions and several other minor incidents that didn’t even get reported.

As it stands, most Internet providers have not blocked applications, discriminated against particular kinds of traffic, or otherwise throttled back anyone’s Internet. To be fair, much of the price gauging and unfair treatment that customers and websites face comes at the hands of wireless providers, a group that, for the most part, was noticeably except from this ruling.

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