Net neutrality was almost a lost cause about a year ago. But once the public and the media told the government how we felt about giving Internet service companies the power to control our access to the Web, things changed.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler listened to the pleas and last week he proposed a new set of rules to keep the Internet an open platform. His proposal will be voted on by the full five-member commission at the FCC’s Feb. 26 meeting.
The proposal will reclassify “broadband Internet access service” as telecommunications service. This will allow for numerous effects to take place, including more transparency and regulation by the FCC, an authorization that the FCC will “protect Internet openness,” a mandate that keeps broadband companies from blocking access to legal and nonharmful websites, and preventing ISPs from setting up “fast lanes” that could prioritize content over others. It also gives the FCC authority to hear complaints about ISP practices.
But Wheeler’s proposal is already under fire by ISPs and net neutrality advocates alike. Wheeler’s proposal does not “protect the status quo,” according to ex-FCC attorney Blair Levin, nor does it outline a particular plan. The new plan will keep ISPs in line, but several companies are threatening litigation against the FCC including AT&T, which has already paused its rollout of its gigabit Internet service offered in cities where Google provides Google Fiber.
What’s more, smaller ISPs are getting in on the lawsuit action. A top lobbyist who represents small and rural cable companies said on Tuesday that it is considering whether to file a lawsuit seeking to overturn the FCC’s proposed rules if they are approved.
"We believe the FCC must do the proper regulatory flexibility analysis to determine the impact of its regulations on small businesses," said Matthew Polka, president and chief executive of the American Cable Association, in an interview. "We believe the FCC has not done this to date."
Republicans aren’t happy either, and that includes radio show host and former Fox News personality Glenn Beck, who explains the “real goal” behind net neutrality: “It’s minorly about taxes. They’ll come after you with taxes on everything. But this is truly about control. … They’ve tried to take away your guns. They’re trying to take away your voice. They need control of the Internet.”
Beck even spoke to a caller who runs a small Internet company in Montana and is concerned that net neutrality will put him out of business. If the government tries to control what his company charges then it may not be able to stay afloat, the caller said, and if it closes, that will cause fewer people in rural areas to have access to high-speed Internet.
The idea of net neutrality is to keep traffic moving and innovations coming by keeping transmission of information moving equally for all comers. It would prevent Internet broadband providers from "throttling" or blocking lawful content or services and from taking payments for prioritizing content, or creating Internet "fast lanes" of different transmission speed levels.