Open Internet vs Restoring Internet Freedom: Is there a Difference?

According to the FCC there is, as Open Internet is on its way out and Internet Freedom is on its way in.

Congress and the FCC have been waffling over how the Internet should be classified and who should provide oversight.  Is it telecommunications with FCC oversight?  Is it commerce with FTC oversight? Is it ‘information service’, and just what does that mean?

A few weeksOpen Internet balance Scale ago, Congress decided that there should be no customer privacy regulations for ISPs, and repealed the FCC privacy regulations before they were enacted. Now, the FCC is in the rulemaking process regarding Rule 17-108; Restoring  Internet Freedom.  Essentially, the commission is looking to end public utility regulation of the Internet with a ‘light touch’ regulatory framework.  The rulemaking proposes to repeal and reserve Title 47 CFR Part 8: No unreasonable interference or unreasonable disadvantage standard for Internet conduct:

Any person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage end users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice, or edge providers’ ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. Reasonable network management shall not be considered a violation of this rule. This is in direct conflict with a previous FCC decision  that we wrote about last fall.  The FCC, after comments from the FTC suggests that this measure is in the interest of free trade and commerce.

If the Internet Superhighway is about commerce, let’s compare it to a another gateway to commerce, a vehicle highway.

Highway for Cars Open Internet Superhighway FCC Open Internet Repeal
Pathway to allow people and vehicles to travel Pathway to allow data to travel freely in all directions Allows data to travel, possibly at varying speeds to and from select locations
Provides travelers access to locations allowing them to choose where to shop, visit, learn, recreate, be entertained, etc. Provides access to shopping, entertainment, education, gaming, communication where users can freely access data from sources connected to the Internet Access to shopping, entertainment, education, gaming etc. could be impeded or denied by the ISP.
The highway doesn’t control whether travelers can visit particular establishments, nor does it have authority over which establishments are allowed to locate along the highway. The open Internet does not limit or deny access to websites that users visit. Website owners could be required to pay an ISP to ensure that users can access their sites.
Commerce booms on a highway where there are plenty of choices for consumers. Estimates are that 40% of all purchases today occur via the Internet.  No problem with commerce here. How can commerce thrive if consumer access to products and services is limited?

 

In practice, when you’re out shopping, you can patronize any store. Right now the same is true with the Internet, you pick where you want to shop or stream entertainment from. In each case, everyone is on an even playing field, and you have unhindered access to the store or website of your choice.

Open InternetNow imagine that when shopping, store A paid the highway owner a premium for direct access from the roadway, and store B didn’t pay and has a mile of exit ramp before you’re in the parking lot. Would this affect your decision about where to shop?  And, how do you think store A is going to make up for the money they pay the highway people?  They’re going to charge you more.

Open InternetThe FCC Open Internet repeal will allow ISPs to slow, limit, or deny your access to websites as they see fit, based on corporate relationships or financial arrangements they enter into.  If Netflix has to pay a premium to an ISP to ensure that their programming streams properly, it will certainly pass the expense to subscribers.  If a major cable TV / ISP company is in a contract dispute with a television network, they may suspend the cablecast of the network, but they will also be able to deny their Internet subscribers access to that network’s website.

Part of the FCC’s rationale for this action lies in its definition of Internet as ‘Information Service’ rather than Telecommunication Service.  The FCC has no jurisdiction over Information Service. Are the FCC’s definitions accurate? That’s next week’s topic.

In the meantime, the FCC is seeking public comments on the rulemaking. Comments can be submitted on-line between now and July 17th Once you’re at the site, click on express at the right and there will be a fillable form.

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