The latest chapter in the debate about net neutrality may come to a close T when the Federal Communications Committee votes on proposed rules on how Internet traffic should be regulated. FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler is proposing that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be regulated in the same way as other common carrier utility services, meaning they won’t be able to give the privilege of a faster Internet to customers and websites that can pay for it.
Earlier this month, Wheeler proposed the new regulations and wrote an op-ed for Wired that translated the bureaucrat-ese into human-speak. He wants to make a fundamental change to how ISPs and Internet traffic are regulated, governing them under Title II of The Communications Act of 1934, and not under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This change would give the government the ability to penalize ISPs for making “any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.” The vote comes down to the decision of five people, two Republicans and three Democrats. If this vote passes (which it’s expected to), it would redefine and incorporate broadband service providers in the same grouping as the telecommunication giants. This would cause Internet providers, including wireless ones, to be regulated the same way cable companies are governed.
This digital tug-of-war on Capitol Hill over net neutrality has been going on for a decade. Whether or not consumers and companies should be charged for a “fast lane” (or condemned to a cost-free slow lane) has caused cable/internet providers and major tech companies to stand on opposite sides of the hill.
Verizon and Comcast, two of the biggest spenders on lobbyists, both hate the idea of a common carrier utility Internet. Which makes perfect sense, given that these communication providers would be missing a golden opportunity to charge for premium Internet service.
On the other side are companies like Tumblr, which has an ongoing campaign to get people to share their stance on the matter at hand. There’s also Twitter, which released a statement Monday in support of free-flowing information without economic hierarchy.
Advocacy groups have organized online protests against the establishment of an information fast lane. FightForTheFuture.Org is putting forth a commendable effort, which has been backed by some notable names, including Wayne Sutton, a general partner at BuildUp.
It’s fitting that anyone with Internet access can make their voice heard on this matter, as the FCC invited the submission of comments online. People took their invitation; the agency has received over 4 million comments.
The division isn’t only amongst tech companies and communications providers; politicians are split on the Net Neutrality debate as well. House Speaker John Boehner isn’t a fan of the proposal. Neither is Senator Ted Cruz, who reportedly called it “Obamacare for the Internet.” The president, naturally, is a supporter of net neutrality.
These are the key propositions on the table:
- No blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No paid prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration – in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates under the “commercial reasonableness” part of Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
With the vote looming, we thought it’d be a good time to take a closer look at some big name tech companies, communication providers and politicians’ stances on the topic.
Twitter: For net neutrality.
“Twitter and its millions of users are counting on Washington to reaffirm net neutrality rules for their obvious and myriad benefits to the Internet ecosystem, to the economy, and to freedom of expression. For all these reasons, we strongly support the FCC taking action.” — Will Carty, Manager of Public Policy at Twitter.
Microsoft: For net neutrality.
Google: For net neutrality.
“That’s how it works today and how it has always worked. It’s a level playing field, where new entrants and established players can reach users on an equal footing. If Internet access providers can block some services and cut special deals that prioritize some companies’ content over others, that would threaten the innovation that makes the Internet awesome.” — statement from Google Corporate site.
Facebook: For net neutrality.
“Facebook continues to support principles of Net neutrality for both landline and wireless networks… Preserving an open Internet that is accessible to innovators—regardless of their size or wealth—will promote a vibrant and competitive marketplace where consumers have ultimate control over the content and services delivered through their Internet connections.” — Andrew Noyes, a former Facebook spokesman, in 2010.
Facebook was one of the many companies that signed a letter to the FCC in support of Chairman Julius Genachowski’s 2010 efforts to preserve Net Neutrality.
Yahoo: For net neutrality.
Netflix: For net neutrality.
“We shouldn’t have to pay for your network if you don’t have to pay for our content” — Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO.
MPAA: For net neutrality.
“In a filing today with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the network neutrality proceeding, the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA) supported the FCC’s goals of preserving a free and open Internet.” — statement to the press.
The Guilds: For net neutrality.
“As Guilds and Unions representing more than 300,000 workers in the entertainment and media industries, we urge the FCC to ensure that any policies laid forth to preserve a free and open Internet also strengthen the distinction between the lawful and unlawful transmission of Internet content.” — a joint statement from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the Moving Picture Technicians and the Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada.
The inventor of the web: “Net neutrality is really, really important.” — Sir Tim Berners-Lee
In the middle:
The CTIA (the wireless association): For net neutrality (but they don’t think using Title II is the way to enforce it). They’ve launched a campaign to make sure that people understand that wireless regulations should be different than land-base ones. Plus they made this (corny) video about it.
Time Warner: No comment directly on the subject matter, however they did have this to say:
“No one, Title II proponents and opponents alike, have suggested that whatever the FCC does it should include any component of rate regulation.” — Robert D. Marcus, Time Warner Cable chief executive
Viacom: Against net neutrality. (At least they were, as of 2007.)
Verizon: Against net neutrality.
“… related to this discussion around Net Neutrality, the FCC has the right to regulate under 765, they do not need to go to Title II, and why would you go to a 1930 piece of literature to try to regulate something that is a 21st-century technology.”- Francis J. Shammo – EVP and CFO
Mark Cuban: Against net neutrality.
“I think net neutrality is the dumbest stuff ever. Really the base of net neutrality is not a technical argument, it’s not a business argument, it’s purely simply demonization of a couple of big companies,” Cuban said.
AT&T: Says it supports the concept of net neutrality, but not Wheeler’s plan. The company was disgruntled by the 2010 decision, which allowed ISPs to meddle with the flow of information on the Internet. But in this latest round of squabbling, AT&T has stated that net neutrality can be achieved through the Telecommunications Act of 1996, not through the proposed usage of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. In spite of AT&T’s public statement, The Daily Dot reports that since 2005 AT&T has been one of the top funders of anti-net neutrality lobbyists.
Comcast: Also says that it supports the concept of net neutrality, but not Wheeler’s plan. On its website, Comcast states: “Comcast is committed to a open internet.” The company goes on to state that it believes net neutrality can be achieved through the application of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
“We just believe that the courts have laid out a clear legal path to accomplishing that result under Section 706 which will enable the country to avoid the adverse investment and innovation impacts of Title II. Being for net neutrality and against Title II is completely consistent.” — David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast
(It’s good to note that there are also reports that over the past decade that Comcast has been a top funder of anti-net neutrality lobbyists, much in the same fashion as AT&T.)
Who’s staying out of it:
Some big players, such as Apple, Clear Channel and Sony have avoided taking a clear stand, and are not among the over 60 different tech companies (including IBM, Panasonic and Intel) that signed this letter, stating their arguments against net neutrality—nor among the over 150 major tech companies, (including Google, Amazon and Microsoft) that signed this letter in support of an open Internet.
Now that all of these arguments have been submitted from people and corporations from Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill, Mr. Wheeler is evidently ready to take action.