Politicians Freak Out Over New FCC Neutrality Moves, Not Realizing They Probably Won't Do Anything

from the I-have-absolutely-no-idea-what-I'm-upset-about dept

Now that I've had some additional time with the FCC boss Tom Wheeler's new net neutrality proposal and have talked to a few lawyers and consumer advocates, I'm starting to think the agency's announcement was almost entirely political theater. All the FCC really said is that it wouldn't appeal the Verizon case, and would begin a meandering public conversation about how to vaguely protect the Internet under shaky Section 706 authority the FCC knows it doesn't have. Layered on top were empty promises about improving competition and some empty threats about reclassifying ISPs as common carriers if they don't behave (which is supposed to be a threat, but every ISP lobbyist on K Street knows they won't do this if they weren't willing to do it already).

In short, the FCC vaguely promised to maybe think about some stuff after a glacial, year long conversation. Cue the absolute, unbridled, partisan hyperbole shitstorm:
"Ranking Republicans called the FCC's efforts to revive net-neutrality rules "a solution in search of a problem," and plan to fight any new rules. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee will introduce legislation in the coming weeks to block what she calls the "socialistic" proposal. "Federal control of the Internet will restrict our online freedom and leave Americans facing the same horrors that they have experienced with HealthCare.gov," Blackburn said in a statement."
You apparently don't understand that the FCC's proposal won't actually do anything, but you do know it's certainly socialist and freedom killing? The sad part is that issues like a healthy, functioning Internet with competitive balance really shouldn't be partisan at all. It's in the interest or everyone that networks work well and that honest, healthy competition improves service and drives down costs, while limiting the bad behavior of large network gatekeepers.

Well ok, not everyone. If you actually want to understand whether a policy will be good or bad for consumers, ignore all the think tanks and politicians and watch the ISP response. Specifically watch AT&T, which has the biggest lobbyist operations and the biggest mouth when truly consumer-friendly policy gets passed. AT&T supported the original rules because they had oodles of loopholes and didn't cover wireless (Verizon only sued in the hopes of killing off FCC authority entirely). Note how AT&T thinks all this socialist freedom killin' is just a splendid idea:
"AT&T, the second-largest wired broadband provider in the U.S., said it believes the FCC has the authority under Section 706 to preserve Internet openness...."AT&T has built its broadband business, both wired and wireless, on the principal of Internet openness," AT&T said in a statement. "That is what our customers rightly expect, and it is what our company will continue to deliver. That is also why we endorsed the FCC's original rule on Net neutrality, and is why we pledged to adhere to openness principles even after the recent court decision."
Knowing the FCC pretty well after more than a decade of watching them, what I think you'll ultimately see at the end of this new "conversation" is a cross-industry set of self-regulatory voluntary guidelines "prohibiting" ISPs from doing the kinds of things they never intended to do anyway -- like blocking your access to entirely legal websites. There might be particular cases where the FCC pushes for greater transparency in peering debates (especially if the ongoing Netflix standoff doesn't improve), but nothing that will truly rattle any slats. The primary goal here is making sure incumbent ISPs maximize revenues and keep the campaign contributions coming. Consumer protection is just pillow talk. For both parties.

What you won't see in any way (and probably wouldn't be enforceable under 706 anyway) is hard rules governing the more subtle sort of things network neutrality folks should actually be worried about, such as predatory pricing and the use of broadband usage caps as a weapon (like AT&T's "sponsored data"). This, unfortunately for consumers, is considered "creative pricing innovation" by both the current FCC and industry alike, and the only ones who should be freaking out at the moment are the people who are going to foot the bill for all this supposed creativity.
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Filed Under: fcc, net neutrality, section 706
Companies: at&t, verizon


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2014 @ 7:53am

    If the ISPs are happy about it the consumers are screwed.

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