Lobbyists (And, Oh Yes, Everyone Else), Start Your Engines: FCC Opens The Floor For Comments On Net Neutrality
from the and-we're-off dept
As was mostly expected, the FCC this morning voted 3 to 2 (along expected party lines) to move forward with Tom Wheeler’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which effectively flings open the doors to the public comment period concerning what the FCC should do about net neutrality. As we’ve been discussing, the basic idea the FCC is proposing will open up a potentially bifurcated internet with fast lanes and slow lanes, even as the FCC insists this isn’t true. Of course, the main point the FCC has been making, which is accurate, is that what happened today doesn’t change anything. They’re basically just setting up the process for the eventual changes that could have a very large impact.
After folks on Wheeler’s own side threatened to revolt, combined with a lot of public pressure, Wheeler apparently did a last minute revising of the plans, to make it more explicit that he’d like the public to weigh in on paid prioritization and Title II reclassification. It also appears he’s added in this vague concept of a “ombudsperson” who will supposedly try to make sure that we don’t end up with ISPs behaving badly.
At this point, what we basically have is open season on lobbyists trying to influence the FCC one way or another, eventually leading to some sort of rulemaking, followed (inevitably) by a bunch of lawsuits from broadband providers who aren’t going to be happy with any solution. And, of course, the potential (unlikely as it may be) for Congress to get involved.
Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOm has the best rundown of the issues up for comment in the NPRM. If you’re trying to understand what exactly people are really commenting on (beyond the broad claims of “net neutrality” “open internet” “fast lanes” “reclassification” “common carriers” and the like), that’s a good place to start. I know folks like to view this on a more simplified yes/no level, but this isn’t an issue that neatly fits into a series of simple yes or no options, in part because of two big reasons: (1) telecommunications law is a massive mess and (2) this is all a symptom of the real problem: the lack of meaningful competition.
And while Wheeler has suggested that the FCC is willing to knock down laws that block competition, we’ll believe it when we see it in action. On top of that, Wheeler made it clear today that he still sees the interconnection issue as a separate issue, even thought it’s becoming clear that that’s where the real problem is. Oh, and while lots of people are calling for Title II reclassification, and there are many reasons to believe that may be the best solution, it’s also exceptionally messy as well, because Title II has lots of problems as well. The FCC would need to deal with those problems, via forbearance, which creates a whole different set of headaches.
In short: this is a very messy process, and there are many, many places where it can (and likely will) go wrong.
But, that doesn’t mean that everyone should just throw up their hands and go home to their (increasingly slow) internet. The broadband lobbyists will not be doing that. And, of course, they know quite well how to play the lobbying game and how to work the ins-and-outs of everything above. It is why it’s going to become increasingly important to become much more informed on a variety of these issues and the true implications of the choices the FCC makes in the coming months. If you would like to weigh in, and I do suggest everyone seek to share their comments with the FCC, I would suggest first spending a little time more deeply reading through the full set of issues and what the pros and cons of different options may be. You can file comments directly with the FCC or via a very, very handy Dear FCC tool that the EFF put together.
Update: And… many hours later, the FCC has finally released the actual NPRM. Take a look.