The debate around net neutrality in the U.S. only gets messier by the day: More than 100 tech and internet companies have petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to redraft its proposed set of net neutrality rules. Indeed, in late April, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler received much flack for proposing a new set of rules that, to many, barely resembled net neutrality regulations. His proposal — which has been scheduled for a May 15 vote — includes restrictions on internet service providers that disable them from blocking certain web channels, but does allow them to arrange for different levels of speed and access from content providers. This preferred access structure is in stark contrast to the FCC’s previous policies — which have since been overturned twice — that required all ISPs to treat all web traffic equally.
VISUAL CONTEXT: NETFLIX’S NEW SPEEDS
As expected, internet companies are in an uproar. Companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Reddit, eBay and Foursquare have sent a letter to the FCC urging its commissioners to reject the proposal that would allow ISPs to charge for preferred access. They claim that such allowance will disable smaller startups from even having a chance at joining the booming web industry. Two commissioners on the FCC have also spoken out against Wheeler’s proposal: Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel have called for the Commission to respond to the massive public outcry. Rosenworcel has called for a delay to the vote scheduled for May 15 until changes can be made to the draft that don’t vastly upset the web world.
And alternatives have been suggested: Mozilla — the company that powers the web browser Firefox — has proposed a plan that would make the service ISPs offer classified as a common carrier service, and would thereby require it to function under regulations similar to public telephone services. Mozilla claims that the model that exists to monitor current internet traffic is outdated, especially since modern networking is developing faster than governments can create legislation to govern its progress. Chris Riley, Mozilla’s senior policy engineer, wrote on the company’s blog regarding its pitch to the FCC:
We ask the FCC to recognize that technological evolution has led to two distinct relationships in the last mile of the network: the current one, between an ISP and an end user, which is unchanged, plus a “remote delivery” service offered by an ISP to an edge provider (Dropbox, in the image), connecting the provider to all of the ISP’s end users.
In the key to our argument, we then ask the FCC to designate remote delivery services as telecommunications services under Title II of the Communications Act.
Clearly, some type of massive change is needed, and Wheeler’s latest proposal is not going to cut it. But the FCC’s previous policies won’t either. It could be some time before regulators get around to classifying the internet just like the public switch telephone network is, but whatever outcome arises from this net neutrality debacle will likely change the future operation of the internet in the U.S.