Today’s FCC meeting on net neutrality could likely mean we are a good step closer to some segmented treatment of internet traffic. This has been seen as likely for the past few months, given the January federal appeals court ruling striking down certain FCC rules on it and the Agency’s subsequent backing away on those rules. While I’ve been getting desperate emails on the pending ‘end of the internet’ from various causes this afternoon, I’m encouraged by the interpretation of today’s events by the Center for Democracy and Technology, my favorite go-to resource when I really want to understand a tricky IT policy issue.
CDT notes that the FCC Chairman is a former entrepreneur and VC, so he understands the stakes. The FCC is offering an unusually long 60-day period for public comment on its pending Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (what they’re proposing as the way forward) so they’re open to a lot of input, which they’re sure to get. In its proposal, mobile broadband may be treated differently from fixed. It might treat interconnection (how you physically access the internet) separately by forcing disclosure of congestion at interconnection points. The NPRM will also apparently probe a lot of specifics around what is known as Title II, the FCC’s authority to ban unjust or unreasonable access to telecommunication services, so they know what might be most appropriate and how to apply it. While internet access clearly fits this service category, the political war over the modern interpretation of this authority has pitted big service providers against those who push or consume content. The government is in the middle.
So I’m now thinking the ultimate outcome in this situation is not a slam-dunk. There might be at least some middle ground to be found in this highly complex situation. The FCC’s NPRM should be out shortly, then it will be a spirited 60 days of public debate before any ultimate ruling. This is a fascinating issue that stands to alter our default expectations for an always-on existence we’ve known since the dawn of the internet age. Millenials, the world as you’ve always known it might be about to change.