Science and Tech
The Net Neutrality Sellout: Still Bad, But What's Next?

Ross Lincoln | 16 May 2014 23:20
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It's Not Just Wheeler

So Wheeler is apparently more flexible than feared. Great! But we still must fear that his ultimate loyalty lies with his former cable industry employers. Fortunately, he's not the only vote in the FCC, and that creates cracks that can be exploited.

The 5-member commission is comprised of 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans. A simple majority of 3-2 is all that is required to move proposed rules to public comment, and eventually make them law. Interestingly, the Republicans, opposed to any regulation of the Internet (we can save the discussion of whether or not a hands-off approach would even work for another time), voted against moving the proposal to public comment. This suggests they will likely also vote down any final proposal. Meanwhile, Wheeler's fellow Democrats - Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel - voted with him. That's disappointing on the surface, but examining what they've said about the proposed rules is heartening.

According to several reports, it was the input of Rosenworcel and Clyburn that contributed to Wheeler taking criticism seriously enough to consider even a limited revision. And while neither commissioner has stated it outright, one cannot help but draw the conclusion that they've voted to move discussion forward precisely because they expect public outcry to continue to be overwhelmingly opposed to a tiered Internet. The evidence can be seen in what they've said prior to yesterday's vote.

Earlier this month Commissioner Rosenworcel requested a delay in bringing the current proposal to public comment. And as The New Republic notes, as it turns out she doesn't actually endorse the current proposal, appearing instead to favor much stronger rules. Meanwhile, Commissioner Clyburn has taken a stronger stance. In a post for the official FCC blog written May 7, Clyburn repeated the objections he had to rules proposed in 2010 which were struck down earlier this year by a Federal court. Stating that he "would have applied the fixed rules to mobile services," that he opposed tiered access to the Internet, and that an open Internet should be available "to all end users, he also "reiterated my preference regarding the Commission's legal authority over broadband Internet access service." That preference all but comes out in favor of the best means of securing Net Neutrality: reclassification of broadband Internet as a utility (more on that shortly).

Clyburn is joined in support for that framework by an increasing number of major players. Just for one example, Congressman Henry Waxman said on Wednesday that if the FCC goes on to pass new rules that attempt to avoid reclassification, and federal courts again strike them down, the commission should simply use its authority already and just reclassify.

Most importantly, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the proposed changes includes the possibility of revisiting classification: "We seek comment on whether the Commission should rely on its authority under Title II of the Communications Act, 295 including... whether we should revisit the Commission's classification of broadband Internet access service as an information service."

All of this is a ponderous way of saying that in the weeks since Wheeler attempted to slip a complete selling-out of the Internet past the people who use it, support for robust, and lasting means of protecting Net Neutrality has only grown. That is, unambiguously, promising news.

And that's where we come in.

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