Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

President Obama on Net Neutrality

From the President’s prepared remarks:

The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:

  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.

  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.

  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.

  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

This isn’t in any way about changing the way the internet works; it’s about retaining the way the internet has always worked in the face of increasing corporate influence.

Unfortunately, it seems as though some people have got it into their heads that the internet should be regulated not by the government but by corporate interests. These uncompromising beliefs have polarized an issue that, frankly, is something that should be immune to polarization. The overarching principles of net neutrality are generally agreeable and not something most people would debate; it is the idea that government would set rules around this that seems to frighten people, which is unfortunate. The government already sets rules that prohibit other utilities from discrimination; why would the internet be any different?

More unfortunate is the unlikelihood of any regulations being passed on this extremely important issue. Now that Republicans — overwhelmingly those who not only disagree with net neutrality regulations due to a market solutions-based philosophy, but who summarily reject anything the Obama administration proposes — control both the House and Senate, the likelihood of a bill becoming law is extraordinarily slim. If such a bill were to be proposed, it’s likely that it would become a watered-down, corporate-influenced version of such a bill that doesn’t actually set net neutrality boundaries, but rather reinforces the ability for ISPs to jerk their customers around. Though, that’s probably true regardless of the party in charge — telecom companies routinely donate large amounts of money to candidates from both parties.

Remember, too, that though this debate is taking place largely in the United States, its effects will be felt worldwide. The US exerts massive influence on the way other countries will follow. As Voltaire reminds us, this power doesn’t come without responsibility.