Here’s how important net neutrality has gotten: President Obama just released the above video calling on the FCC to make your broadband a public utility and to preserve net neutrality. Needless to say, when the President himself steps in, it’s a pretty big deal. And while it’s nice to hear from him, this shouldn’t excite the Internet’s freedom fighters just yet.
Here’s what you need to know:
Help me out: What is net neutrality?
Essentially, that internet service providers can’t privilege traffic from some sites over others. Basically, right now, Uproxx and Gmail load at the same speed. Without net neutrality, Google could pay to have Gmail load more quickly, although ISPs would be barred from deliberately slowing any traffic. John Oliver made probably the best explanation of net neutrality and what might go horribly wrong without it.
What policies does Obama want to see?
It’s a little vague, but essentially, he’s calling on the FCC to:
- Ban blocking of legal websites.
- Ban throttling of legal websites, like Verizon has admitted it does to Netflix all the time.
- Apply transparency rules to peering agreements and other behind the scenes discussions that affect your Internet speed.
- Ban “paid prioritization,” which is what we laid out above.
What does Obama mean by a “public utility”?
That, essentially, they’ll be subject to the rules laid out in Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Currently, the FCC is taking this on a case-by-case basis, which pleases nobody.
And this will guarantee net neutrality!
Nope. Your mobile phone provider is covered under the same law and guess what? There’s no net neutrality on your phone whatsoever. Your mobile provider can do whatever they want. Try accessing a competitor’s website, for example, and see what happens.
If you want a full breakdown of just how miserable and stupid the law is, we have one right here, but suffice to say, putting your ISP in the same category as your phone company, your taxi company, and Disneyland is not the best possible option.
Will the FCC listen to Obama?
They’re under no obligation to do so. But they likely will.
Despite the bitching of net neutrality advocates, the FCC isn’t really the issue here. They’ve spent the last year trying to make this happen. The problem is that their rules were rejected by a court and the FCC has to work around this court ruling. And under that ruling, at the very least some paid prioritization is going to be allowed.
In short, he basically told the FCC to do what they’ve rather loudly announced that they already want to do in the first place. Which is great, the President’s support will really help, but he can’t make bad court rulings vanish.
So what could Obama do instead?
Well, for one thing, he could, you know, draft a law that addresses this problem and make net neutrality the law of the land. There’s a problem in the sense that the “pro business” crowd would try to shut down such a bill, but the reality is, everybody hates their ISP, and there’s data to prove it. A bill making them improve their crappy service is a chip shot.
Another way he could help is by figuring out how to strip cable companies of their monopoly over the cables. Part of the problem is that, right now, you’ve got precisely one choice of cable company. Or he could knock down the barriers local governments put up to broadband access.
Or he could start the process of creating a free internet for all. The technologies to do so actually exist; white space broadband may not be the fastest technology, but it’s an exciting one, and in theory could be built off existing infrastructure. This would actually be an Internet that the First Amendment would apply to.
In short, it’s great he’s offered his support. But if he really wants net neutrality, Obama’s going to have to get his hands dirty.