The former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler is re-writing rules in favor of the telecom giants – not you, me or the internet. Here’s what you can do to stop him
In January, a federal appeals court rejected regulations designed to assure some measure of fairness in the way America’s internet service providers (ISPs) handle information traveling through their networks. The problem, according to the court, was not so much that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) couldn’t insist on what is called “network neutrality” – the idea that customers, rather than ISPs, should decide priorities for information they get online. No, the issue was that the FCC had tried to impose broadband rules under the wrong regulatory framework. And the court all but invited the FCC to fix its own mistake and rewrite its own updated rules.
The FCC’s new chairman, the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler, said he would comply, rather than appeal. “Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency,” he said in a February statement.
Now, based on a slew of frightening news reports last night and a “clarification” from the FCC late this morning, we know how the agency – or at least the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler – proposes to respond: it won’t exercise its supreme regulatory authority in the manner the court suggested.
No, not at all.
Rather, the FCC will say – loud and proud – that it is fixing the open-web problem while actually letting it get worse, by providing a so-called “fast lane” for carriers to hike fees on sites trying to reach customers like you and me. Which, inevitably, would mean you and I start paying more to use those sites – if we aren’t already.
This is a potentially tragic turning point in American politics and policy. We are on the verge of turning over the internet – the most important communications system ever invented– to telecoms that grew huge through the government granting them monopoly status. Barring a genuine shift in policy or a court stepping in to ensure fair treatment of captive customers – or better yet, genuine competition – companies like Verizon and Comcast will have staggering power to decide what bits of information reach your devices and mine, in what order and at what speed. That is, assuming we’re permitted to get that information at all….