If this is the Federal Communications Commission’s idea of triangulation, you have to wonder who they’re trying to please.
The FCC handed down a ruling on net neutrality yesterday. The result: nearly everyone is pissed off. On one side, Internet service provider (ISP) Verizon is reportedly eyeing a legal challenge. On the other side, advocates for maintaining the same level of online service, no matter the size or type of content, are calling the FCC’s ruling tepid at best – setting the stage for protracted courthouse wrangling.
“I think you’ll see legal challenges from both sides of this,” Timothy Karr, campaign director for Free Press, an organization seeking regulations prohibiting ISPs from establishing tiered broadband access, told me yesterday.
“This is not over,” Karr added. “The FCC is just a speed bump… We’ll fight (for stronger regulations) with the FCC and in the courts.”
For those in need of a refresher course, net neutrality is a multi-year initiative to maintain equal access to online information and products, no matter the broadband width they take up. The ruling made by the FCC today is designed to provide some of those protections, but critics say it doesn’t go far enough, particularly in regards to wireless access. Wireless providers can’t block websites, but can block applications or services that don’t directly compete with a wireless carrier. Also, the rules still allow ISPs to create “fast” lanes for customers with deep pockets and “slow” lanes for everyone else, establishing a tiered Internet, critics argue.
People on the right side of the aisle are calling the ruling another example of a government takeover. Some folks, like Henry Blodget at Business Insider, argue that because the ISPs invest in the infrastructure that delivers online applications and content, they should be able to charge based on how much bandwidth consumers or companies use. Proponents of net neutrality say a tiered system will create a divide between rich and poor Internet users and stifle innovation.
Some, like Lance Ulanoff at PC Magazine, take a middle-of-the-road approach. “Lack of regulation has been shown to hurt start-ups,” Ulanoff wrote me in an email. “On the other hand, some startups have managed to flourish regardless of the environment… I see these potential rules like the bumpers you put up when kids are bowling. They’re not fool-proof, but may help prevent the players form making some of the most egregious mistakes.”
Regardless, the movement from accessing the Internet at home to on-the-go through 4G, WiMAX, etc. will make today’s ruling regarding “fixed” Internet access “obsolete within a few years,” Ulanoff said.
The FCC sought to put the issue to rest and instead ended up a lightening rod. Bottom line: no matter where you stand on the issue, yesterday’s ruling came far short of resolution.