Mozilla Proposes Tweaked Net Neutrality Plan

by Matt Klassen on May 6, 2014

Mozilla has an alternative to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent Net Neutrality proposal, one that revisits an old strategy of redefining broadband services in an effort to bring Internet management under the legal purview of telecommunications regulators.

In a filing submitted to the FCC earlier this week, the non-profit developer of the Firefox browser and mobile operating system proposed a new way forward for Net Neutrality, one that would rehash previous plans about redefining broadband providers as “common carriers” and thus make them beholden to current telecom regulation that would prevent discriminatory blocking or throttling and avoid establishing paid preferential Internet service, the dreaded fast and slow lanes on the information superhighway.

But will Mozilla’s new take on an old idea really give the FCC a better way forward in establishing a free and open Internet for all, or will the legal gymnastics required to reclassify broadband service only serve to further muddle the laudable vision of Net Neutrality?

In the filing Mozilla presented to the FCC on Monday, the company suggested the FCC scrap its current plan, starting from scratch when it comes to defining how to classify and regulate broadband services. As the company noted in an associated blog post, we can no longer think of an Internet service as a connection between provider and subscriber, as there is a third party involved in that transaction.

Briefly, subscribers are using Internet service to connect to websites, apps, and content providers, the carriers themselves should therefore be classified as a “remote delivery service,” and thus be regulated as a Title II communication service under the Communications Act.

“Our petition asks the FCC to adopt a modern understanding of the Internet in a way to reach Title II directly and quickly,” said Chris Riley, senior policy engineer at Mozilla. “This will also ensure that the FCC can adopt meaningful Net neutrality rules with no blocking and no paid prioritization that will stand up in court.”

Once reclassified as “common carriers,” it would be far easier for the FCC to impose and enforce Net Neutrality regulations, ensuring that broadband providers could not block, unnecessarily throttle, or establish paid preferential service.

But the FCC has shown an unwillingness to pursues reclassification of any sort, as Commission chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly stated that effective regulation is possible without redefinition, although of course his most recent proposal towards established an open Internet was lambasted by Net Neutrality supporters as too lenient, evidence the Commission was knuckling-under to industry pressure.

Even if the FCC were in favour of reclassification, however, the road would not be easy, as service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have already “fought off earlier attempts by the previous FCC chairman to reclassify broadband traffic and impose telephony-style regulation.”

The reality is here that the FCC is caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to finding legal footing for Net Neutrality, as clearly the Commission is looking to balance the wishes of the Internet industry with the needs of the subscriber…and in such situations the sad truth is the subscriber often loses.

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

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