The Revival of Net Neutrality

by Matt Klassen on January 25, 2013

In a strange twist of fate, the only Internet-related topic likely to emerge on the Federal lawmaker’s docket over this next year is one we’ve seen many times before: Net Neutrality. At this year’s State of the Net conference, an event consisting of the bipartisan Congressional Internet Caucus, members of Congress, and technology policy makers, several key Internet-related governmental priorities were tabled, but given the continued economic issues plaguing the nation, it’s likely only the old debate about Net Neutrality will get any attention.

While other key issues certainly emerged, including a legislative response to cyber-security issues, the rewriting of the antiquated 1996 Communications Act, a reformation and restructuring of federal online surveillance laws, and Internet governance, there was a sense that Congress simply won’t have enough time in 2013 to address any of these issues, leaving the group to perhaps address the fading power of the FCC to manage Internet controls.

In fact, should the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) lose the pending court case from Verizon and MetroPCS challenging the legality of the Commission’s 2011 ‘Open Internet’ directive—which it almost certainly will—the Net Neutrality fight will return to Congress, and this time definitive answers are needed.

Bogged down with persistent and pervasive economic issues, it’s clear that Congress has little time to consider Internet regulation. Unfortunately, given these circumstances its clear the inmates have take over the asylum, as service providers continue to dictate the rules for how the Internet is delivered, how much people should pay for it, and what users can actually use it for.

But now is the time, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) stated at the conference, for Congress to take an active role in user protection and Internet regulation. “First and foremost,” she said, “this means preserving the basic ‘rules of the road’ that the FCC adopted to ensure a free and open Internet. Should the court overturn the FCC’s rules, I will be prepared to introduce legislation clarifying the Commission’s authority to ensure a free and open Internet, while preventing the use of Internet ‘fast lanes’ or other discriminatory tools.”

Truth be told, it’s the sort of Congressional support the FCC has needed over the past two years, with successive legal losses rendering the Commission all but useless in controlling how both wired and wireless Internet is managed. But I still have to wonder if despite these good intentions, if anything will ever come to fruition. The problem, you see, is that like Big Industry or Big Tobacco, Capital Hill is infested with Big Telecom lobbyists as well, those paid to influence votes on matters such as this, determined to make sure Net Neutrality receives no Congressional support.

In fact, Republican representatives have already voiced their opposition to such standards, arguing that the Internet needs less regulation, not more, and that the FCC should step back and let private enterprise run the Internet how they see fit. Of course this, in my mind, is the worst option available, as such free capitalist regulation-free enterprise has produced some of the worst Internet standards in the developed world; proof (to me at least) that a framework for the public governance of the Internet is absolutely necessary.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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