The FCC splits hairs on Net Neutrality while the free Internet dies
The Federal Communications Commission does not plan to include interconnection agreements, like the one announced by Netflix and Comcast in February, in its revised net neutrality rules because they are "not a net neutrality issue," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a press conference on Monday.
"Peering and interconnection are not under consideration in the Open Internet proceeding," an FCC spokesperson said in a statement to National Journal, "but we are monitoring the issues involved to see if any action is needed in any other context."
It's not that the FCC isn't interested in these deals -- it simply won't lump them in with other net neutrality rules because they involve a different part of the system used to transport old seasons of "Bones" from Netflix's servers to your living room. But does that really matter?
The idea of an open Internet is not predicated on regulatory technicalities. Allowing companies like Comcast to assert increasing amounts of control over the Internet because it involves the connections between Netflix and Comcast instead of those between Comcast and consumers is ludicrous. Deals like this don't just irritate Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: they threaten the very idea of a competitive market.
The ones hurt most by these deals are small-time entrepreneurs. As Pando's David Holmes wrote when the Netflix-Comcast was first announced in February:
The Internet has historically been a place where anyone could post content or offer services to the same global audience, regardless of whether you’re a kid from Arkansas or a multi-national corporation. But it’s becoming more like cable TV where content providers have to bring loads to cash to the table before companies like Time Warner and Cablevision will bring that content to millions of eyeballs.
That could leave small-time players like [VoteRockIt founder Matt] Hudson stuck on the Internet equivalent of grainy, limited-audience public access TV. I then wrote about Comcast's increasing power over the Internet when the Wall Street Journal reported a potential deal between it and Apple for a new streaming video service in March:
Contrary to the narrative crafted by net neutrality activists, Comcast isn’t dabbling in back room deals that subtly undermine the idea of a free Internet where all data is treated equally. It’s created a system through which it is able to convince even net neutrality supporters like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to pay for improved performance, to get Apple to pay for the ability to reach consumers at a decent speed, to become even larger in the ISP market, and to make donations to the lawmakers tasked with keeping it in check.
But let’s go ahead and focus on the news that Apple is developing a streaming media service through which it could tighten its grip on the digital media market and, because this is Apple we’re talking about, keep rumors of an aluminum-clad television set alive. Surely that’s more important than the systematic destruction of the ideals on which the technologies that would enable that service were founded. Gotta watch those “Breaking Bad” reruns, after all. Splitting issues that could affect the foundation of the Internet and allowing companies like Comcast to hamstring the greatest technological innovation in human history -- or at least the innovation just behind man-made fire and wine -- because the FCC wants to focus on semantics is insane. The Internet isn't just the series of tubes connecting Comcast's infrastructure to our homes: it's the whole damned thing, from the servers operated by companies like Netflix all the way down to the cables in our homes.
Comcast might not be violating net neutrality laws, but it's certainly violating the spirit behind them. It's about time the FCC did something about that.
[Image via Thinkstock]