This past week saw an unsuccessful effort to overturn the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules scheduled to take effect November 20. These controversial rules have generated strong opinions on both sides. Ironically, both proponents and opponents of net neutrality argue in favor of sustaining innovation. Here is a brief overview of the issue.
At stake is how much freedom Internet service providers — typically, local phone and cable TV companies such as AT&T and Comcast — have to prioritize the data traveling over their networks. Proponents believe net neutrality will prevent ISPs from offering favorable treatment to sites willing to pay a premium for it, or from impeding competitors’ traffic— actions that would make it difficult for upstarts and nonprofits to compete with the deep-pocketed rivals.
Proponents view the rules are a reasonable attempt to protect the open and freewheeling nature of the Internet. For example, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, made the following statement in reaction to the Senate’s 52 to 46 vote to keep the rules. “This is a victory for innovation, consumers, and common sense. Today, the Senate refused to hand over the Internet to a small group of corporate interests.
On the other hand, opponents wish to prevent the rules from taking effect, believing the order exceeds the F.C.C.’s authority and puts the government in the position of overseeing what content a consumer could see and which companies would benefit from Internet access.
“Over the past 20 years, the Internet has grown and flourished without burdensome regulation from Washington,” argued Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. “The message the FCC has sent with this action is unmistakable: Innovate at your own risk because the FCC can impose sanctions. So, how would an innovator avoid sanctions? By seeking prior approval. The delay and loss of proprietary protection will surely slow down new product development.”
It is also believed the rules will be overly burdensome to communications firms. Verizon Communications and Metro PCS have sued the agency, saying the rules go beyond the FCC’s jurisdiction as a communications services regulator.