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Don't Be Fooled: FCC Chairman Appears Determined to F Up the Internet

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Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father's…
Peter Z. Scheer

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Under immense pressure from corporations and consumers alike, former cable-industry-lobbyist-turned-FCC-chair Tom Wheeler will reportedly revise his scheme to create an Internet toll road, but early reports suggest the new version will make no difference.

Here’s the back story: Net neutrality (aka the Internet as we know it) is the principle that the Internet is open and indiscriminate. Your Web browser can access Truthdig just as easily as Fox News or Wikipedia. Some Internet Service Providers desperately want to boost their profits by charging Internet companies such as Netflix a toll to have speedy access to their customers. Netflix already pays such a toll to Comcast, for example. ISPs are able to do this because the FCC refuses to treat broadband Internet as a “common carrier” utility. Instead, the regulator treats ISPs like AOL or Yahoo. Former FCC chair Julius Genachowski ushered in a compromised effort to maintain net neutrality on land-based networks (not cellular networks) called the Open Internet Order. That rule was overturned by a court, with the presiding judge strongly suggesting that the FCC reclassify broadband as a utility.

Instead, Wheeler, who formerly ran both the cable and wireless trade organizations, has offered a new take on the Open Internet Order that basically gives the Comcasts of the world everything they want. Under the guidelines as they’ve been reported, ISPs can charge fees for improved access to their customers.

That has upset many, including Sen. Al Franken, not to mention “more than 100 prominent Internet companies and two of the five FCC commissioners,” by Information Week’s count. The FCC has asked the public to write, not call, presumably because the phone won’t stop ringing.

That brings us to today. Wheeler, who has maintained all along that he supports net neutrality and has no intention of undermining the Internet, is reportedly tweaking his proposal to make it absolutely clear that ISPs cannot penalize companies that don’t pony up.

But that doesn’t really make a difference. When you create a fast lane, everything else becomes the slow lane, whether you’re intentionally causing a traffic jam or not. It’s still a two-tiered system, in which those with more money have an advantage. It’s an affront to the egalitarian nature of the Internet, which is one of the American economy’s few bright spots and the best guarantor globally of free debate.

If that bothers you, call the FCC: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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