If you see the headlines today, it will probably be on the Internet — the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) is on the cusp of making history by turning the internet service providers (ISP) we all love to hate against them with a new proposal that will be made public this week. In fact, the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement to Wired that almost guaranteed that we can look forward to a formal pursuit of turning the internet into a public utility. First the statement. Then we’ll tell you why it’s awesome.
Wheeler began the statement to Wired with the good news:
“After more than a decade of debate and a record-setting proceeding that attracted nearly 4 million public comments, the time to settle the Net Neutrality question has arrived. This week, I will circulate to the members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules to preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression. This proposal is rooted in long-standing regulatory principles, marketplace experience, and public input received over the last several months.”
The statement continues for more than 850 words and speaks of innovation, creativity, and the American dream of creating something (in this case opportunity) from nothing.
Here’s the great thing about this outright defense of an open internet: What you see on your computer or connected device will not be curtailed by companies seeking fees for fast lanes of service from content providers or by content providers paying to stop their competitors content from being shown through an internet connection. Furthermore, if the FCC is allowed to regulate ISPs the way that they do other public utilities like heat and water service, it means that consumers like you and me have a much better chance of fair pricing, good service, and reliability from our providers than we have now. It could mean that stories about horrible customer service and companies that make it virtually impossible to unsubscribe from their service will stop being newsworthy. And hopefully the spinning circle of death that pops up every weekend on Netflix will become a distant memory.
Most importantly, it means that Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and all their friends will not be able to control what you do and do not see on your TV screen (if you’re using a streaming device) or on your computer. For a more in-depth look at the issue of net neutrality, here is our primer.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as the FCC Chairman dropping a report and proposal this week and everything goes perfectly. Players in the game of politics and regulation are already predicting the massive lawsuits that will arise the moment the proposal is made public, and considering this topic has been up for debate for almost a decade, we don’t see it being completely resolved anytime soon. But it’s a great sign that the FCC is publicly recognizing the need for a free and open internet that everyone can benefit from in the future, and they have already learned the hard way that it is better to be slow, steady and completely thorough on this topic rather than trying to fold new technologies into old regulations.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind while we all wait with baited breath for the final proposal to be revealed: As far as we know (though rumor is already heavily leaning towards this not being true) the proposal is only supposed to address broadband service. Broadband means the tubes in the ground that connect the wires coming out of your wall and hooking up to a modem. It does not include wireless data services which power internet access for a gigantic portion of the population these days. But, as I said, there are very potent rumors circulating that the FCC is already looking at folding wireless data service right into this proposal and making all of the net truly neutral.
There’s probably a long and hard fight ahead of the FCC to get their proposal accepted, and we’ll probably see it change form a number of times before anything is set in stone by lawmakers. Here’s hoping the FCC continues fighting the good fight to keep the internet neutral and out of the monopolizing paws of the internet service providers who already have fun playing God with our ability to screen the latest episode of Agent Carter.