As expected, today’s vote on the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules passed with a 3-2 margin. While this is a big step in a process that has been going on for thirteen years now, we’re still a long way off from this debate being over. Since a draft of the proposal wasn’t shared with the public we still don’t know what exactly the rules state or how to interpret them. We’ve also learned that FCC Commissioner Clyburn did get FCC Chairman Wheeler to make “significant changes” to the newly passed FCC rules, but what those changes are we won’t know until we get to see the actual language.
The problem is that even when we do get to read the new rules, many of the words used are going to be vague. Things like “fair” and “unreasonable” have no meanings. What is the baseline that will be used to define what is fair, and what isn’t? Apparently that is up to the FCC and from what I am told, the new rules provide no definitions or methodology at all of how those words will be put into practice. Vague, high-level language isn’t what we need more of, yet that’s what we get when the rules are being written by politicians. It also doesn’t help that many in the media still can’t get the basic facts right, which only continues to add more confusion to the topic. My RSS feed is already full of more than a hundred net neutrality posts and some, like this one from Engadget, get the very basics wrong.
The post says that the new rules will, “ban things like paid prioritization, a tactic some ISPs used to get additional fees from bandwidth-heavy companies like Netflix,” except that Netflix is getting NO prioritization of any kind. Netflix has a paid interconnect deal with Comcast and other ISPs but a paid interconnect deal is not the same thing as paid prioritization. All you have to do is read the joint press release by Comcast and Netflix, to know this as it clearly states that, “Netflix receives no preferential network treatment“. Engadget is not the only media site to get this wrong. These are the basics, if people can’t get those right, what chance do we have of having an educated discussion on net neutrality rules when people don’t even know what they apply to?
For all the talk of how this now help consumers with regards to blocking or throttling of content via wireline services, it has no impact. We don’t have a single example of that being done by any wireline ISP, so there isn’t a problem that needs fixing. To me, the biggest piece of language in the new rules is that the FCC is using Title II classification not just for ISPs, but also edge providers. This gives the FCC the right to examine the ISP practices downstream to broadband consumers as well as upstream to edge providers. But is the oversight and regulations for upstream and downstream going to be the same? Probably not and one would expect it could very well be different.
I find it funny that the term “open Internet” keeps being used. Has the Internet ever been “closed” to anyone? I’ve never heard of any consumer complaining that they went to a website or content service and it was denied on their device, do to their wireline ISP provider. It’s usually denied on the device because the platform or device has a closed ecosystem, which the net neutrality rules don’t address. So for those that have been saying that today’s vote now, “opens up the Internet to be a level playing field”, think again. The Internet itself has always been open, the apps and platforms we use, for the most part, are all closed.