The FCC Sorta Tries to Keep the Internet Kinda Free


FCC chairman Julius Genachowski goes way back with Harvard buddy Barack Obama. So it’s little surprise then that his new framework for regulating net neutrality — the principle that flow of content online should remain open and unrestricted — is a compromise likely to disappoint both sides of the debate. Last year, Genachowski, an advocate for net neutrality, was shut down when he tried to reclassify broadband as a telephone service that the government could regulate. Then, a federal appeals court denied the FCC’s authority to punish Comcast for blocking BitTorrent. This time around, Genachowski’s proposal forbids wired and wireless ISPs from blocking lawful content. Cable companies won’t like that. Lobbyists on the opposite side, like law professor Marvin Ammori, point out that distinction between wired and wireless is artificial and that the prohibiting blocking still leaves room for providers to discriminate. That means that “Sprint Wireless could discriminate against, say, Skype, degrading it to make it less reliable … AT&T Wireless could make its own social network load faster than Facebook.”

But the biggest point of content for consumers might be the fact that Genachowski’s new framework will allow broadband providers to charge different amounts for different levels of service in order to limit congestion (like the 20 percent of Internet traffic that Netflix takes up at night). Not that you have to worry about it … for now. Because the proposal doesn’t reclassify broadband, it will likely end up challenged in court — that is if it even gets a majority vote from the FCC’s five-person committee. So stream that Ken Burns documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge while you still can watch it for no extra cost. That’s what you’re using Netflix Instant for, right? Not Emotional Romantic Independent Movies With a Strong Female Lead? Yeah, us neither.

FCC Chair Proposes Garbage, Calls it Net Neutrality [HuffPo]
F.C.C. Chairman Outlines Broadband Framework [NYT]