After the mid-term Republican landslide in the US House, many political observers proclaimed that hopes for true “Net Neutrality” policies passing Congress had gone up in flames along with the Democratic majority.
Now the last chance for those rules, known to supporters as the First Amendment of the Internet, may be slipping away as well.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which would have to act independent of Congress, is formulating a series of proposals based upon principles from legislation first proposed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), according to a Monday report by Politico.
Waxman, who vowed that he would support the so-called ‘Net Neutrality’ policy proposals favored by most Democrats and progressives, instead put forward a legislative framework that explicitly prohibits the FCC from regulating broadband Internet under Title II of the Communications Act. It would have effectively enshrined proposals by telecom and data giants Google and Verizon, which mandate neutrality for wireline networks but allow for tiered services over wireless.
“The world envisioned by the Verizon-Google Gaggle was one built of private Internets that would vastly diminish the centrality of the Internet that you and I know,” opined FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps, speaking at a recent town hall meeting [PDF link] in New Mexico.
“They want a tiered Internet. ‘Managed services’ is what they call this. ‘Gated communities for the Affluent’ is what I call them.”
An FCC spokesman told Politico that no matter what outside sources may be claiming, the commission’s upcoming agenda has yet to be announced and any reports about their forthcoming proposals are purely speculative.
The publication noted that its sources close to the FCC commissioners mentioned talk of adding a neutrality component to wireless networks, but few details were carried in the report.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told an audience in San Francisco recently that “Net Neutrality” rules “will happen.”
In order for that to become reality, the FCC will have to act on its own and it will have to do so during its December meeting, the agenda for which is expected to be announced on Nov. 24.
The FCC could simply reclassify the Internet as a “communications service” instead of an “information service,” effectively giving it the power to enforce fairness. It could alternatively leave broadband as a Title I service and just issue a package of “Net Neutrality” rules
Or, as Politico suggested, it may ultimately return with policies culled from the watered-down Waxman “compromise” that actually kills data equality and allows network traffic management on all levels.
Or it could do nothing.
Republicans in Congress are adamantly opposed to mandating data neutrality, suggesting that business interests should be allowed to manage traffic on their networks and create super-tiers of special traffic that get additional bandwidth. Following the mid-term elections, there was talk of the GOP fighting various federal regulatory agencies by attempting to withhold funding.
Should the FCC fail to act before those Republicans take office in 2011, the rules could be delayed even further.
In an editorial for Scientific American, creator of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee opined that the fracturing of the Internet poses risks to human rights. And it’s not just data inequality that threatens the free and open web, he said: it’s also “closed silos” of information like Facebook and LinkedIn.
“If we, the Web’s users, allow these and other trends to proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into fragmented islands,” Lee wrote. “We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want. The ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.
“Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend. The Web is also vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes possible a continuous worldwide conversation. The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium.”