Less than neutral

April 24, 2014

As foreshadowed by the January Verizon v FCC case, net neutrality looks as though it’s officially dead. For the third time, the Federal Communications Commission is attempting to regulate the speed of the internet. This time, while it proposes preventing internet service providers from blocking internet content, it is likely to allow the creation of “fast lanes” — where big corporations like Netflix or YouTube can pay for their video to be streamed faster than content from other companies.  The commission will vote on the measure at its May 15 meeting.

On the official FCC blog, chairman Tom Wheeler, who was a lobbyist for the cable industry before being appointed to the FCC, tries to calm the concerns about the new regulation, saying that behavior “limiting the openness of the internet will not be permitted”. His post focuses on the idea that, within the parameters of the Verizon case, the FCC is allowed to stop “harmful conduct” if it isn’t “commercially reasonable”. In other words, “internet providers would be required to offer a baseline level of service”, writes Amy Schatz. Above that base level of service, allowing companies to pay to deliver certain content faster to consumers seems to be okay.

Open internet advocates object to the FCC considering any kind of non-equal treatment web content. “If you’re allowing ‘fast lanes’ why regulate at all?” asks Timothy Lee. Ars Technica demonstrates the point by quoting none other than the FCC, circa 2010: “If permitted to deny access, or charge edge providers [like Netflix] for prioritized access to end users [you], broadband providers may have incentives to allow congestion rather than invest in expanding network capacity”. On the other side, James Gattuso calls net neutrality “a dangerously bad idea”, suggesting that consumers are hurt by excessive FCC regulations.

The net neutrality issue goes back to the fact that ISPs historically haven’t been classified by the FCC as “common carriers”, like phone companies are. Because they aren’t treated like telecom companies, they aren’t subject to the regulations requiring that they treat all content equally. After the Verizon case, many advocates — including former FCC commissioner Michael Copps — had hoped the FCC would take steps to reclassify ISPs as common carriers.

Gautham Nagesh writes that “this latest plan is likely to be viewed as an effort to find a middle ground, as the FCC has been caught between its promise to keep the internet open and broadband providers’ desire to explore new business models”. Stacey Higginbotham succinctly sums it up: “The FCC doesn’t want to destroy net neutrality, but it’s going to anyway”. — Shane Ferro

On to today’s links:

Easing Ain’t Easy
QE is like salt in your food – you don’t notice it until it’s not there – Jared Bernstein

New Normal
Maine’s lobster boom (caused by climate change) is busting (because of climate change) – AP

“It is officially time to stop cheering for higher house prices” – Atif Mian and Amir Sufi

Data Points
80% of all condo sales in Florida, Nevada, and New York are all cash – Corelogic

So Hot Right Now
“After years of peddling sugar, salt and fat, the $1 trillion food industry” has re-discovered plant protein – Bloomberg
The new ‘super’ working-class: wealthy professionals who work too much –Management Today

Uber maps where the world’s young and rich live and play – Uber

Like That
How do you pronounce “Tome-AH PEEK-et-ee”? – Kevin Roose

Textus interruptus: how explainers penetrate your mind – The Awl

In upstate New York, the cows milk themselves – NYT

A brief roundup of consumption inequality blogging since the crisis – Mark Thoma

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