The FCC & Net Neutrality: What Does It All Mean?

Jenny Erikson
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Jenny EriksonI saw a headline on Monday that made me do a double take: The FCC’s Threat to Internet Freedom, followed by  the subhead: 'Net neutrality' sounds nice, but the Web is working fine now. The new rules will inhibit investment, deter innovation, and create a billable-hours bonanza for lawyers.

Net neutrality is something I hear a lot about, but have never taken much time to fully comprehend. Since it’s my job to stay abreast of political issues involving freedom and liberty (so really, all political issues), I knew that further research was necessary.

First -- we must define net neutrality. After reading approximately 42 different websites on the subject, I think I have grasped the basic concept of network neutrality: It is the principle that Internet Service Providers (henceforth referred to as ISPs) not block or redirect services to consumers for their own financial gain. For example, AOL doesn’t block emails from Time Warner Cable accounts, but rather treats all emails as "neutral."

This is where I started to get confused. To the best of my knowledge, my ISP doesn’t block or impede my access to any legal websites, but if it did, I would probably cancel my account and go with a different company. Since I’m geographically limited in my choices, I’d probably set up a mobile account with my cell phone company. Bottom line -- in order to keep my business, it’s in my ISP’s best interest to keep me happy by not restricting my online access. So why in the world are we talking about implementing a system that already seems to be in effect?

Apparently, Comcast was accused of blocking access to peer-to-peer sights like BitTorrent in 2007. Comcast said they didn’t block anything, but did have to restrict access at times due to high demand for high bandwidth sites like Netflix. In 2008, the FCC handed down an enforcement action against Comcast for “unreasonable network management.” Comcast then appealed the ruling by the FCC, claiming that the FCC had no right to stick its nose where it didn’t belong. In the spring of 2010, an appeals court ruled in favor of Comcast.

Ok, now the lights are starting to come on. The FCC (like any government agency) is interested in getting as big and as powerful as possible. No doubt they didn’t like being told they didn’t have the right to regulate the Internet as they saw fit. Less than a year after the court ruled in favor of a private enterprise over the government, the FCC voted on Tuesday to give itself more power. The FCC will be in charge of regulating ISPs and policing them on their network management.

I’m still confused as to why we’re talking about fixing something that isn’t broken. There is no monopoly on Internet service. Why should the FCC determine what is right or wrong with my ISP? No one is forcing me to pay one particular provider for Internet service; if I don’t like Time Warner Cable, I can cancel my service and go with someone else.

The FCC is trying to create a bureaucratic red-tape nightmare under the guise of protection from non-existent discrimination. This is just one more example of nanny-state ridiculousness taken where it doesn’t need to go. Next thing you know, the government will be telling parents they’re too stupid to decide if their kids should have happy meals. Oh wait ... that’s already happening.

Photo via TechAskew

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