FCC Net Neutrality Rules Slammed from All Sides

FCC Julius Genachowski Image:J.D. Lasica/Wired

Ryan Singel

The federal government’s new internet fairness rules — aimed at preventing the nation’s cable and DSL internet service providers from meddling with the open, free-wheeling nature of the internet — were met with loud criticism Monday night from all sides of the political spectrum.

Many Republicans, including FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, blasted the new rules as an interventionist over-reach by an activist federal regulator intent on asserting control over the internet. Meanwhile, Democrats, including Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota, along with public interest and free speech groups, slammed the rules as woefully inadquate to protect the public from the privations of an industry keen on turning the internet into a cyber-version of cable TV, with tiers and premium packages affordable by the wealthy.

There was one group, however, that seemed pleased by the new rules: the nation’s cable and telecommunications companies, which have been making the rounds in recent weeks signaling their support for Chairman Julius Genachowski’s compromise deal.

And of course, the new rules will allow President Obama to say that he fulfilled a key campaign pledge — net neutrality — when the plan’s critics say he has done nothing of the sort, and in fact only consigned the issue to more lawsuits and uncertainty. The long-awaited move comes after five years of running battles between the nation’s telecoms, public interest groups and Silicon Valley firms over how best to keep the internet open to innovation.

Come Tuesday afternoon, following what will likely be a 3-2 party line vote at the FCC, the new rules of the road will resemble the old rules in many respects — just with less legal authority, and a massive new loophole. For the first time, federal policy would allow for so-called reasonable “paid prioritization,” which critics argue is the first step toward cleaving out high-speed, premium fast-lanes from the “public internet.” This could jeopardize internet innovation by disincentivising entrepreneurial activity on the free, or regular, internet.

The new policy appeared to cross a key hurdle Monday when Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said he would support it.

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