Net Neutrality being neutered?

Net (Internet) Neutrality can be defined as the condition for which there are no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers’ access to networks that participate in the internet.

Most citizens support net neutrality in keeping with their desire for unfettered access to the Internet. Most organizations involved in providing services through the Internet also support Net Neutrality.

A summary of the history of Net Neutrality can be found in a memo prepared for Net Neutrality Congressional hearings.

In the United States communications are regulated by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) . The FCC has five members. The Chairman is appointed by the President. The other four members are usually split between the two political parties.

The FCC is chaired now by Julius Genachowski a longtime Obama friend and a top 2008 campaign fundraiser,

In 2005 the FCC declared “The Commission has a duty to preserve and promote the vibrant and open character of the Internet as the telecommunications marketplace enters the broadband age. To foster creation, adoption and use of Internet broadband content, applications, services and attachments, and to ensure consumers benefit from the innovation that comes from competition; the Commission will incorporate the above principles into its ongoing policymaking activities”

The FCC left the Internet alone until December 21, 2010 when it issued FCC Net Neutrality order FCC 10-201. The order is a non-trivial regulation occupying 194 pages. The order adopts rules “embodying four core principles: transparency, no blocking, no unreasonable discrimination, and reasonable network management.”

A reading of the order gives one the impression it is an attempt to take over another segment of our daily lives much as Obamacare takes over our health care.

The FCC order states: “These rules are generally consistent with, and should not require significant changes to, broadband providers’ current practices”.

If that is true, why are regulations necessary?

The order includes, at the end, a “DISSENTING STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER MEREDITH ATTWELL BAKER” The dissent is a statement from a minority (Republican) Commissioner about the action of the majority (Democratic) Commissioners and includes the following statements:

”the Internet is open today. The evidentiary record in our proceeding has reaffirmed that government action is not necessary to preserve it. Yet the majority acts, and acts decisively, to adopt Net Neutrality rules, imposing the heavy hand of government into how broadband networks will be managed and operated. The data most certainly does not drive us to this result. In the final analysis, the Commission intervenes to regulate the Internet because it wants to, not because it needs to.”

“The majority is unable to identify a single ongoing practice of a single broadband provider that it finds problematic upon which to base this action.”

“the majority regulates an entire sector of the Internet without any legitimate legal authority to do so.”

” The majority does all of this without any apparent appreciation of the regulatory costs and distortive effect of government micromanagement of broadband networks.”

“I keep returning to what should be a threshold question: why do we intervene in the one sector of the economy that is working so well to create high-paying jobs, untold consumer choice, and entrepreneurial opportunity?”

“I have seven principal objections to this decision. First, the factual record does not support government intervention. Second, the majority’s claim that consumers will benefit from this government overreach is unsupported and deeply flawed. Third, the majority’s focus on preserving network operators’ current conditions will distort tomorrow’s Internet. Fourth, the majority puts the Commission in the unworkable role of Internet referee. Fifth, the majority fails to marshal a sustainable legal foundation. Sixth, the majority’s decision to act a legislator, not regulator, is a mistake that may undermine our agency’s mission. And, lastly, opportunity cost. By that I mean, we have squandered months on this effort, diverting resources and political capital away from real problems that lie within our core competencies, like universal service and spectrum reform.”

The dissenting statement then provides extensive details to back up the seven objections enumerated above.

The FCC must understand the public is not happy with its regulatory efforts because it has created a web site to sell its regulations to the public.

Because of the controversy stirred up by this net neutrality order and the economic stakes involved, it is likely not the last word.

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