Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is sick of you people griping about the agency’s attempts to kill the free Internet. Don’t you trust the FCC, which is better known for protecting the innocent masses from obscenities than for protecting consumers? Don’t you believe that the agency that already threatened the free Internet by using the wrong words in 2002 and is more interested in semantics than ideals will be able to defend the Web?
That’s what Wheeler will ask when he defends the agency’s proposed net neutrality rules today. He has published his remarks in a blog post in which he wrote that “recent commentary has had a misinformed interpretation” of the proposal and that “the simple fact is that the court has provided a legal roadmap for how we can protect net neutrality and do [so] expeditiously.”
And oh, how vivid some of that “recent commentary” has been. The agency’s brazen disregard for the free Internet has led to equally drastic reactions from anyone caring about its future. The Guardian compared the proposed rules to axe-murdering net neutrality; the Los Angeles Times wrote that Wheeler is “aiming to slay net neutrality in broad daylight.” The list goes on.
But it’s the claim that the agency will defend the free Internet despite the proposed rules — or perhaps because of them, as Wheeler believes — that is the most interesting. Wheeler writes in his blog post that if the agency gets to “a situation where arrival of the ‘next Google’ or the ‘next Amazon’ is being delayed or deterred, we will act as necessary using the full panoply of our authority” to ensure that both consumers and the spirit of competition are still protected.
That power includes the ability to regulate Internet service providers with rules that typically apply to telephone networks and other public utilities instead of Internet infrastructure. He believes that the agency’s proposed rules will have the same effect while allowing the agency to act “now rather than endure additional years of litigation and delay” with using existing rules.
It’s a compelling argument. Wheeler is right in stating that the FCC should defend the Internet now instead of waiting a few more years. The idea that the agency will use all of the tools at its disposal even as it creates rules that would allow for a “fast lane” that defies the very idea of a free Internet makes for a serviceable consolation prize. But will the FCC keep all its promises?
That seems unlikely. The agency is still ignoring the peering and interconnection agreements that allow companies like Comcast to charge both companies and consumers for access to its network. It’s still manned by people who fought the principles it’s now trying to defend. And it’s still the same agency whose own incompetence threatened the Internet in the first place.
So how about it: do you trust an axe-murderer willing to slaughter the free Internet in broad daylight, or do you think the FCC will do what it’s supposed to and defend the free Internet? Remember that axes leave scars, and that idealism is rarely enough to keep death at bay.