The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently deliberating on net neutrality rules. However, the draft has some Democrats worried that it does not go far enough to guarantee a fair, level playing field in some online environments.
Democrat Mignon Clyburn has raised concerns that the draft does not sufficiently cover wireless broadband networks, at the annual telecommunications summit held by the Practicing Law Institute. The problem may lie in the fact that the FCC Order bars wired networks from “unreasonable discrimination”, but is mum on wireless networks.
As long as wireless networks warn users that their access is not equal, then they would not be culpable for violating net neutrality rules under the FCC order.
Setting the idea of neutrality and equal access further off balance is the fact that the Order would allow for paid prioritization on wireless networks as well. This means that if certain ISPs choose to favor their own content over providers of services who have legitimately grown their market share because of user preference, this would give those ISPs an unfair visibility, complete with all the advantages of that visibility in the online marketplace. But, as long as they warn users, all is fair game according to the FCC.
People like Clyburn are trying to force the FCC—and FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, who does not share her views—to think through the potential ramifications of not enforcing neutrality on wireless networks as well as wired ones. Her vision sees a world where two different types of internet environments develop as a result of the FCC’s Net Neutrality Order: one where there is true openness (wired) and one where vested interests use their position of power to economically discriminate against their competitors.
She worries that the users’ experiences will be completely different on each network.
Clyburn isn’t the only the only one: 80 community organizations and public interests groups, including The New America Foundation, The Future of Music Coalition, and even regular businesses looking to protect their hard earned market share such as Mother Jones Magazine, have come together to sign a warning issued to the FCC that a tougher Order is needed to protect consumers by enforcing net neutrality rules across the board, on behalf of the public interests. Thus, they claim the whole wireless broadband issue must be revisited since the FCC’s power to regulate it was recently weakened by lost a battle against Comcast (on whether it had any right to take Comcast to task).
The commission is set to vote on the draft on December 21, and Genachowski is going to need Clyburn’s vote to get it passed. However, his draft has garnered wide support from the likes of Verizon Wireless’ chief executive Daniel Mead and Craig Newmar, founder of Craigslist, among other venture capitalists. Even some labor unions have come out backing Genachowski’s draft.
This was to be expected. Law experts in the telecom field have concluded that the Order would naturally give big network operators an enormous net neutrality loophole that they could use to gain even more profitability. Paid prioritizing could give Verizon Communications the power to push its own partner You Tube over Hulu or Netflix. This wouldn’t necessarily benefit consumers, just reduce their options.
Net neutrality rules affect everyone, business and consumers, whether they are for them or against them, so here’s hoping that a serious rethink occurs before the December 21 vote date.