While the world waits for the FCC's response to Net Neutrality, others weigh in

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on February 10, 2014

From The News Desk

The future of Net Neutrality -- that is, how ISPs will treat the online content hosts -- continues to hang in the balance, with little to no certainty of whether (or how) the economic landscape of broadband Internet is going to change.

This is all thanks to a recent DC Circuit federal appeals court ruling that shot down the FCC's regulatory framework of broadband ISPs. The court ruled that the FCC couldn't hold broadband providers to the same rules as common carriers like landlines, given that broadband is not classified as such. This means that the information disseminated on broadband networks -- that is, the Internet -- isn't legally bound to be treated as "neutral" content. Therefore, theoretically, carriers could be able to charge more or give preferential treatment to some content and not other.

Numerous responses were written at the time, most lamenting the future of how ISPs will treat broadband information. Democratic lawmakers also introduced a new law to resist the court's decision. A few days back, Mozilla wrote a response analyzing the recent developments that aim to combat the circuit court's ruling.

And today, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission is looking into the best response, and that one will be announced in "the coming days."

We're now in a waiting game to see what kind of ramification this decision could have, and if it's possible to make quick changes to mitigate any lasting damage.

As I wrote a few weeks back:

This is a huge blow to the idea that all content diffused on the Web should be created equally. Yet, all may not be lost. For example, when the FCC first unveiled its proposed rules for Net Neutrality, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation were dubious. In a blog post from 2009, EFF’s Corynne McSherry wrote, “Many have overlooked the fact that this rule making is built on a shoddy and dangerous foundation — the idea that the FCC has unlimited authority to regulate the Internet.” Perhaps this could lead to a better formulation of Net Neutrality regulation on the FCC’s part, one of which the EFF could approve.
The newly unveiled bill, entitled the Open Internet Preservation Act, would ostensibly reinstate the FCC's original regulation over broadband until it takes "new, final action in the Open Internet proceeding." Which is to say that its sole aim would be to preserve what the circuit court had shot down. From there, FCC will have time to work toward its ultimate Net Neutrality goal: a reclassification of broadband Internet as a common carrier.

Mozilla, always with its foot in the tech-politics scene, has responded to the measure. The organization's Senior Policy Engineer Chris Riley took the company blog to write, "The bill would help by providing some enforceable safeguards against bad actors and acts, although it’s not a long-term solution – think of it as a tourniquet, and the open Internet needs stitches."

In essence, this bill may be what is needed for right now to ensure that that ISPs don't start treating information online in a de-neutralized fashion. But, in the long run, more serious and widespread regulatory change will need to happen. Riley says this explicitly, and points to online petitions and even presidential support working toward this.

Now, we must wait to see what the FCC's plan will be, especially in light of the new bill. While many are seeing it as a long-shot, people like Riley want to emphasize that Net Neutrality needs as many vocal proponents as humanly possible.

With this coming week's protest against online surveillance and this looming battle vis-à-vis Net Neutrality, there's a growing antagonism between the US federal government and an unfettered Internet. The following weeks will demystify how lawmakers truly feel about this antagonism, and whether they actually want anything to change.

[Image by balleyne]