The Short Memory of Network Neutrality Sell-Outs

Today, the FCC is poised to pass a half-ass attempt to preserve the open Internet against the interests of massive gatekeepers like AT&T and Comcast. Tim Karr rightly calls it Obama's "Mission Accomplished" moment.

Fortunately, the likely result will be a couple of years in the courts before the rule is thrown out because the FCC has not properly ground its half-ass actions in any authority it has received from Congress. Perhaps when the FCC next has to deal with this, we'll have an FCC Chairperson with a backbone and a stronger interest in what is best for hundreds of millions of Americans than what is best for AT&T and a few other corporations.

The FCC and supporters of this let's-keep-the-Internet-partly-open "compromise" will lump all critics as being extremist looneys. (Okay, the Republicans who oppose this might fit that description as they are literally making things up or totally confused about what is being decided).

But let's look at the crazy looney rhetoric of FCC Chair Genachowski last year:

Genachowski proposed that the FCC formalize its four principles of network openness. To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled:

  • to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

To these, Genachowski proposed adding two more: The first would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement.

Not only has Genachowski sold out on what he once stated was absolutely necessary to maintain the Open Internet, he has rolled back the protections instituted by the Bush Administration FCC.

Obama, meanwhile, is now embracing the rules that will lay waste to what he once thought was "one of the best things about the Internet."

Asked in 2007 if he would "make it a priority in your first year of office to re-instate net neutrality as the law of the land" and "pledge to only appoint FCC commissioners that support open Internet principles like net neutrality," candidate Obama responded by saying: "I am a strong supporter of net neutrality," said Obama. "What you've been seeing is some lobbying that says [Internet providers] should be able to be gatekeepers and able to charge different rates to different websites.... so you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you'd be getting rotten service from the mom-and-pop sites. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.... as president I'm going to make sure that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward."

And now we have learned that Obama's FCC has embraced the cowardly tactic of delaying the publication of these rules until they will be forgotten among the Holidays. To recap: For the past few weeks, AT&T and the FCC Chair have been writing the rules governing the few companies who control access to the Internet for hundreds of millions of Americans. Today, the FCC will vote on those rules. The public will get to see those rules sometime during the Holidays later this week or next week.

This is yet another reason communities cannot trust the federal government to govern the massive companies that control access to the Internet. Most communities can build their own networks, if they choose, and offer fast, affordable, and non-discriminatory access to subscribers. Communities that are preempted by state law should organize to change those laws.

Update: For a less ranty and more informative take on this issue, please read Harold Feld's take at Public Knowledge:

Nor is it that Genachowski himself has any doubt about what an open Internet requires. Genachowski has spoken eloquently about the dangers of creating Internet fast lanes and toll roads. He continues to preach the value of wireless and how there must be “one Internet.” So why, with a majority firmly in hand and no obvious gains from holding back, does Genachowski refrain from taking the last step and defining these things clearly in the rules themselves? Genachowski justifies his decision through what has become the almost de rigueur exercise of invoking competing “extreme” straw-men and placing himself in the mythical center, as if rhetorical geography constituted leadership. Unfortunately, it would seem that Genachowski has not demonstrated Solomonic wisdom, but rather pursued a policy of political expediency by pushing all the truly hard decisions off to some future judgment day.