Today, the FCC announced its new plan to maintain an open Internet. And honestly, it’s the best they can make of a bad situation. But it’s still not great. Here’s what you need to know, and what happens next.
The Legal Choice
The FCC has announced that its new rules will regulate the Internet according to Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. What does that mean for you? A lot of red tape and paperwork.
The FCC had two options, from a legal perspective, and they were both awful. The other option was to treat internet providers like public utilities under Title II of the same law, which would have made the Internet a public utility like gas, water, and electric.
What’s wrong with that? It would have made it impossible for the FCC to put the brakes on any merger of ISPs, like, say, the Comcast-Time Warner one. Going by 706, on the other hand, means a lot of aggravation.
A Case-By-Case Basis
The FCC is going the passive-aggressive route. Under 706, it has to challenge or approve decisions on a case-by-case basis. So, for example, if a website felt that it was unfair to be charged for access to their customers, they could take it to the FCC. Most of the FCC’s other proposals fall under this category as well, such as appointing an ombudsperson to monitor the behavior of ISPs.
The FCC probably chose this because it gives them more leverage over ISPs. For example, nobody believes that, if the Comcast-Time Warner merger is approved by the FCC, it won’t force Comcast to agree to a lot of Open Internet concessions. At the very least, the FCC will be able to pop off those data caps that give Comcast keeps thinking aren’t making customers hate it.
It’s not a great solution, but the FCC can’t just make up laws. Which leads us to the only real solution…
Getting Laws On The Books
The FCC is constrained by the laws on the books and how the courts have interpreted those laws. Really, the only way to get the net neutrality we want is to get some laws on the books about it.
For now, this at least puts a check on ISP misbehavior; expect Netflix to be gleefully dragging ISPs that try to slow it down into court. But it’s an imperfect solution, at best, and hopefully a situation that will be fixed soon.