The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to reveal its new guidelines next week for “net neutrality” — the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) treat all internet traffic equally, giving all users equal access to any service, website, or application. Just as telephone companies are not allowed to block or degrade your calls selectively, net neutrality would prevent Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other ISPs from blocking or slowing down traffic to or from specific sites.
As with most political issues these days, the arguments split on party lines, with Democrats favoring more regulation to force the ISPs to act in the public’s best interests, and Republicans favoring less regulation and more reliance on private industry. Liberals favor classifying the internet as an essential public utility, like electricity, water, or telephone service, and subjecting it to more government oversight. Conservatives favor the current classification, established in the George W. Bush administration, in which the internet is an “information service” largely beyond the reach of FCC regulations.
Consumers are also awaiting decisions by the FCC and Congress later this year on the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which, if joined, would control more than 40 percent of the broadband internet market in the United States, and have a virtual monopoly in 19 of the 20 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.
The FCC’s new guidelines will reveal much about the future of the internet, and about whether the FCC will ultimately serve consumers, or serve the corporate lobbyists who increasingly write the rules in Washington. So far it’s not looking good for consumers. Let’s tell the story in quotes:
“The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday gave the green light to Comcast’s proposed acquisition of a majority stake in NBC Universal by a vote of 4-1. Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, the lone dissenting vote, said in a statement that the merger confers too much power in one company’s hands. “The Comcast-NBCU joint venture opens the door to the cable-ization of the open Internet,” Copps said. “The potential for walled gardens, tollbooths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end-users and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real.” – The Hill, 18 Jan 1011
“The commission is supposed to protect the public interest, not corporate interests. But what we see today is an effort by the FCC to appease the very companies it’s charged with regulating. With approval of this merger, the FCC has given a single media conglomerate unprecedented control over the flow of information in America. This will ultimately mean higher cable and Internet bills, fewer independent voices in the media and less freedom of choice for all American consumers.” – U.S. Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, 18 Jan 2011
“Cable giant Comcast Corp. has hired Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker as senior vice president of government affairs for its NBCUniversal unit. Baker, who will leave the FCC when her term expires in June, is the latest hire for Comcast, which has been beefing up its already formidable lobbying team since taking over NBCUniversal. A Republican who served as a commissioner for nearly two years, Baker’s hiring just a few months after voting in favor of Comcast’s deal to acquire majority control of NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. raised eyebrows among some media watchdogs.” – The Los Angeles Times, 11 May 2011
“I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over. I have done more than any other candidate in this race to take on lobbyists — and won. They have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president.” – Barack Obama, Speech in Des Moines, IA, 10 Nov 2007
“WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist and former lobbyist, to run the Federal Communications Commission.” – The Wall Street Journal, 01 May 2013
“Wheeler served as the president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the lobbying organization for the cable industry, from 1979 to 1984. Later, he led CTIA, the lobbying arm for cellphone carriers and also worked as a venture capitalist. Wheeler raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and [at least] $200,000 for his 2008 campaign, according to transparency group OpenSecrets.” – The Hill
[NOTA BENE: Tom Wheeler is a strong advocate of net neutrality vis-a-vis blocking and throttling competitors, but also favors allowing the broadband companies to establish “fast lane” and “slow lane” tiers of service. ]
“Major broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon also contributed large sums to Obama’s campaign coffers. Influence Explorer reveals that the political committees and employees of the two Internet giants have contributed at least $530,000 and $450,000 respectively.” – The Sunlight Foundation
“The nation’s cable lobby has landed a powerful Washington, D.C., insider. Michael Powell, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2001-05, will join the National Cable & Telecommunications Association as president and CEO. …