I mentioned yesterday that the FCC hearing on net neutrality would be streamed live this morning, but the drama was removed from the proceedings last night, when Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn announced, with some reluctance, that they would support Julius Genachowski’s pretend net neutrality plan. Tim Karr was one of the first out of the gate to blast the decision.
According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow’s FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.
The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it’s become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.
We don’t know the full nature of the deal yet; Copps and Clyburn did negotiate with Genachowski and presumably got something for their votes. But their statements did show more regret than eagerness to embrace the rule. And Genachowski’s own statement, where he literally says “I reject both extremes” (as if it’s extreme to want content on the Internet to be treated equally), portends the expected disaster. The list of “supporters” of his rule include front groups being paid by the telecoms, and the Communication Workers of America, which has always lined up behind AT&T on net neutrality.
You just have to read the lead graf of the New York Times’ story today to know the nature of the sellout:
The Federal Communications Commission appears poised to pass a controversial set of rules that broadly create two classes of Internet access, one for fixed-line providers and the other for the wireless Net.
The proposed rules of the online road would prevent fixed-line broadband providers like Comcast and Qwest from blocking access to sites and applications. The rules, however, would allow wireless companies more latitude in putting limits on access to services and applications.
The only difference between “fixed-line” and wireless Internet is that the whole world is moving to wireless, where the rule will basically not apply.
Perhaps the worst thing about this deal is that it’s completely unsecure. Because Genachowski will not reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, the rule will run into legal resistance of the exact same kind as the Comcast case, which upended different FCC rules. You should not put out net neutrality rules until you are certain they will succeed in court – the resultant uncertainty from a court battle could last for years, where telecoms will just blatantly flaunt convention and gouge consumers.
But it’s not clear these rules themselves, which allow for “reasonable network management” for broadband providers (that means they can basically move content as they see fit), and does not even ban “paid prioritization,” whereby a company could pay a provider for faster service, will stop that in the first place. We have terrible broadband in the US, and by all accounts, we’re now going to pay more for it, with less choice of content. It’s all very sad and I don’t know where the open Internet movement goes from here.
…as Chris Bowers notes, this is truly regulatory capture, as no election would have changed the 3-2 Democratic advantage on the FCC until at least 2012.