FCC Set To Vote On “Net Neutrality” Today

Let’s start with this

Ajit Pai is one of the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission. It should be very concerning that no one can actually see what’s in the plan.

(USA Today) After nearly a year-long process, the Federal Communications Commission casts its all-important vote Thursday on the divisive issue of net neutrality.

The five-member board is expected to approve FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s new rules that aim to preserve an open Internet and prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against content makers. But regardless what happens Thursday, the agency’s action won’t be the last word.

“It is a defining moment, but it will be redefined by the courts, Congress and other entities including the marketplace going forward,” said Gary Arlen, a Bethesda, Md., research analyst. “But whatever they decide is going to be a benchmark.”

Ah, but here’s the thing: this has not been a one year push: it’s been going on for over a decade. Gizmado takes a look at the history of “net neutrality”, which begins in March 2002

The FCC, under the Bush Administration and Republican Chairman Michael Powell, declares that cable modem services are “not subject to common carrier regulation,” meaning they aren’t bound by standards for non-discrimination in service. Instead, cable Internet services fall under a separate light regulatory regime that gives the commission limited enforcement power.

Tim Wu coined the phrase net neutrality in Fall of 2003. In August of 2005, the FCC adopted a toothless position on NN. In March 2006, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced a net neutrality bill that quickly died. Then we get

Aug. 2008 – The FCC, under Republican Chairman Kevin Martin, orders Comcast to stop slowing down user access to BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer sharing network often used to share music and videos.

This continues on till we get to today. And, during that whole time, 12 years since the introduction of the phrase, 13 since the original FCC declaration, and 9 years since the introduction of the first NN legislation, there has been only really one case of a slowdown by a cable company, which involved a company that allows users to “share music and videos” in a manner that actually violates copyright law.

Back to the USA Today

In general, Republicans share the ISPs’ concerns that Wheeler’s plan to regulate them as a utility — like traditional telephone service — under Title II of The Communications Act is overkill. The rules “may not ultimately provide net neutrality protections for American consumers … (and) may raise rates for the American Internet users and could stymie Internet adoption, innovation and investment,” Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said Wednesday.

Here’s the thing: we do not really know, because the FCC Chairman refuses to let the public see the plan. We can make assumptions, and we have hard data on what placing telecommunications under the auspice of being a public utility has done over the years. Again, it’s a solution in search of a problem that will create more problems. And there are so many potential problems that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

(NPR) But there’s something net neutrality advocates dislike about the proposed rules, too — and it’s related to what policy wonks call “zero-rating.” Basically, that means your wireless provider promises not to count one app or group of apps against your monthly data cap.

T-Mobile’s “Music Freedom” plan, which lets subscribers stream all the music they want without data charges, is one example. That may sound like a good deal for consumers — who doesn’t like free data? But critics say there’s a problem.

“I think zero-rating is the next big threat to innovation and free speech online,” says Barbara van Schewick, a professor at Stanford Law School. She says the problem with some zero-rating plans is that they create an un-level playing field — where wireless companies can favor their own video services, for example, or strike business deals that favor other big companies.

“That distorts competition, interferes with user choice,” she says. “And that’s exactly what network neutrality is designed to protect.”

In essence, this would tell private companies that they can’t push their own content over competitor’s content. In this case, T-Mobile is letting people stream music from their own app for free. If you want to listen to iHeart radio, you use data (and, damn, but iHeart music uses serious data, which is why I only use it on WiFi). It is a service you pay for, running either $4 a month for basic or $9.99 for premier. Or, I, as a T-Mobile customer, can choose to pay $80 a month for completely unlimited LTE data (which goes with unlimited talk and text), $20 more than I am paying for 3gb of LTE now. That’s the beauty of choice. Which this FCC plan can take away, forcing a one size fits all solution.

Seriously, what is the problem with companies offering specials for themselves? T-Mobile doesn’t stop you from using other music streaming services. They just offer a special for their own service. My new TV only offers iHeart as an app. Is that fair? Does it create an “un-level” playing field? Or, is this simply choice?

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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