On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to keep the internet free and open. Classifying broadband internet service – including mobile broadband – as a Title II public utility, the FCC banned ISPs from trying to control what you – the consumer – get to see while using the internet. Some ISPs had already extorted additional fees from content providers like Netflix, threatening to throttle data streams unless they basically paid a ransom. That’s illegal now.
Now, the company from whom you buy your broadband service can’t speed up or throttle content you want to access, for any reason.
This is especially important for home broadband, which remains monopolistic in most areas of the country. Even here in WNY, unless you live in one of the small handful of places that have FiOS, you’re stuck with Time Warner. Do you want Time Warner to have the ability to dictate what you do and don’t get to access? Do you want Time Warner to slow Netflix down so it becomes unwatchable, while speeding up the stream of some competitor that paid TWC off?
People who seemingly don’t know any better have denounced this move as “Obamacare for the internet” and tried to frame net neutrality as excessive government regulation. This is, of course, utter nonsense. As this piece in Engadget notes, the loudest voices against this rule are from Republicans, libertarians, and big telecoms. The libertarians hate everything, but the connection between the Republicans and the big telecoms isn’t accidental, and GOP opposition to net neutrality has been well remunerated.
The telecoms opposed net neutrality because it forever closes off an additional potential source of revenue through holding content hostage in exchange for paid ransoms. It’s estimated, however, that Time Warner enjoys a 97% profit margin on broadband service. The guaranteed open internet guarantees that content providers can continue to innovate and provide incredible and competitive creative content.
“It [the internet] is our printing press; it is our town square; it is our individual soap box and our shared platform for opportunity,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during today’s open commission meeting. “That is why open internet policies matter. That is why I support network neutrality.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to telecom-backed critics thusly:
“This is no more a plan to regulate the internet than the first amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept: openness, expression, and an absence of gatekeepers telling people what they can do, where they can go and what they can think.”
As a contributor to a content provider on the internet, I am grateful that the FCC has taken this step to ensure that the people who control that series of tubes we call the broadband internet can’t dictate to us what we can and cannot see.