Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality at CES Takes a Turn as Congress May Upstage FCC Chairman Wheeler

January 8, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

Just so our readers are all on the same page, let’s define exactly what Net Neutrality means.  According to Wikipedia, it is the tendency not to side in a conflict (physical or ideological), which may not suggest neutral parties do not have a side or are not a side themselves.  In colloquial use “neutral” can be synonymous with “unbiased.”  Neutrality is distinct (though not exclusive) from apathy, ignorance, indifference, doublethink, equality, agreement, and objectivity.  It goes on further to describe our specific Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

The debate about net neutrality has been so extensive there have been talks about whether net neutrality should be required by law, particularly in the United States.  Long before the term existed, debates have surfaced concerning the issue.  Advocates of net neutrality have raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile of infrastructure to block internet applications and content – websites, services, and protocols and even to block out competitors.  They also claim that telecom companies seek to impose a tiered service model in order to control the pipeline and thereby remove competition, create artificial scarcity, and oblige subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services.

One of the biggest existing problems is that nobody has legal control over the internet – since its existence, it has grown bigger and faster and now is to the point of needing some real oversight as telecom companies seek to make more money by controlling certain aspects of who gets what speed for how much money.  The FCC, and its Chairman Tom Wheeler, has not, up to this point, been in a position to legally do much.  Soon after the midterm elections in November, President Obama released an “unprecedented statement,” directing the constitutionally independent FCC to pursue Title II in full.  He said: “[T]he time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do,” Obama said, referring to services including water, power and other infrastructure long regulated as quasi-governmental public utilities.”

Wheeler, in his one-on-one interview with Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro, was certainly expecting to talk about net neutrality, but he was not prepared by the sudden announcement that a bipartisan effort in Congress was drafting legislation that would certainly supersede the FCC’s efforts.  Senate Commerce Committee member Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) are supposedly working on a Net Neutrality bill.  Nelson told Politico that he and Thune had “talked extensively” about a bill that would solve the FCC’s Net neutrality problem without transforming ISPs into public utilities, but that the two “don’t have any resolution.  Stay tuned, It’s going to be exciting.”

It will be interesting to see what kind program the FCC and Wheeler have in mind versus what the government is drafting.  Wheeler confirmed that after almost a year, he plans to present a new net neutrality proposal to his fellow commissioners on February 5, to be voted on at their next meeting on February 26.  He may not be able to take this debate off his agenda depending what Congress wants to do – which may simply give the FCC the authority to act and enforce rules that regulate internet services.  Wheeler wrote in late April: “…we have been talking about Net neutrality for a decade; it is time to put something in place — and to do it with dispatch.”  Truer words have never been spoken.