Talk of Net Neutrality is spanning the Internet right now, due in large part to the FCC accepting comments for its pending decision on how to govern the Internet.
Net Neutrality is the outlandish idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally, instead of creating Internet “fast lanes” that companies could contract for, delivering their particular content at a faster speeds than those unfortunate companies that could not pony up the funds for access.
Back in February, the D.C. Circuit Court struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules, necessitation new regulations. Earlier this year, the FCC opened its proposed regulations for public comment.
The new plan that the FCC is considering, however, would allow some ISPs to provide faster access to some websites that pay a fee to reach users faster. This “pay-to-play” model has certain advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) concerned that it would stifle innovations on the web. New websites that could not afford expensive fees for better service will face barriers to competition and success, leaving consumers with even fewer options for a less diverse Internet.
Net Neutrality comments closed this past Monday, September 15, with over 3 million comments filed, surpassing a 1.4 million complaints record the FCC received after the infamous Janet Jackson boo-“wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl.
Many of the latest comments filed used a form letter that advocacy groups promoted during the September 10th “Internet Slowdown” that stated:
“We are writing to urge you to implement strong and unambiguous net neutrality rules that protect the Internet from discrimination and other practices that will impede its ability to serve our democracy, empower consumers, and fuel economic growth,” and that “[e]recting toll booths or designating fast lanes on the information superhighway would stifle free speech, limit consumer choice, and thwart innovation.”
Not to be outdone, the conservative advocacy group American Commitment collected more than 808,000 signatures on a petition calling on the FCC to reconsider the proposal to treat broadband Internet as a regulated public utility, similar to common carrier rules on traditional telephone service. Joining this cause is Tech Freedom, which counts Google, Facebook, Comcast and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association as major funders. Tech Freedom claims that reclassifying broadband under the regulation-heavy Title II of the Telecommunications Act would lead to years of lawsuits challenging the FCC’s authority to do so.
Of course the landed gentry of the Internet, the tech elite, would threaten years of litigation to get their way.
The debate is an example of the dichotomy between the “power of the organized people and organized money.” Daniel G. Newman, the president of Maplight, a non-profit organization that tracks campaign funding for politicians, boils the issue to one about “who the government will listen to. The hundreds of thousands of citizens who expressed their support for net neutrality and the many millions who will be affected by this government decision, or a handful of corporations who have invested vast amounts of money in politicians?”
Maplight has crunched the data and revealed that opponents to net neutrality are taking in, on average, forty percent more campaign funds from the broad-band delivery industry than those who support it.