FCC and Net Neutrality: no Internet and no neutrality

If you ask regulators to fix a problem they will try and regulate everything. The FCC could kill the Internet as we know it.

The FCC Net Neutrality debate is a very important one in many ways:

  1. It defines who controls and regulates traffic across the web
  2. It sets down regulations and rules that mostly impact the very sites and apps that have made the Internet great
  3. It shifts the power balance in favor of the very same businesses that can screw the whole thing up

The FCC wants to issue regulations how ISPs manage and price their traffic. They were so thoughtful about it that it resulted in 1,067,779 comments from the public about the issue, the most the FCC had ever received other than when Janet Jackson showed a nipple at the Super Bowl (far more important than freedom of access to the Internet because…).

The chief problem here seems to be that the FCC wants to treat broadband service providers as telecommunications services which would then make them subject to the FCC’s regulations under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

1934 is a year that existed in another century and sat between major world wars. It is not some sort of weird FCC code. 

So, you got it right. The FCC wants to regulate a 2014 problem with a 1934 set of rules turning the Internet into a utility. Oh, wait, they updated it the rules in 1996 but apparently it isn’t much of an improvement other than taking into account that telecomms was not run solely by Ma Bell anymore.

What is very clear is that nothing in Title II makes you feel comfortable about this as a solution. Title II puts the emphasis on “carriers”  to justify a lot of things we take for granted.

For example, privacy rules in Title II would render most location based applications obsolete unless they were willing to navigate all kinds of disclosure and data protection rules. Ride sharing would be done and hook up apps would be out the door. Society would collapse.

Social media would take a big hit, too because the requirements on sharing of user data would mean that Facebook would have to completely rethink how it allows for its basic functions to work within the confines of the regulations.

Okay, so it does sound like the Apocalypse and it doesn’t. For a company like Facebook, with billions of dollars and lots of lawyers, the process would be relatively simple to negotiate.

For a startup: not a chance in hell.

And that’s what is so incredibly worrying about the FCC’s approach. They don’t get the startup economy. They don’t get the nature of the Internet and they probably like the idea of shoehorning everything into an existing infrastructure which, surprise surprise, favors the big telecoms companies who have the biggest lobbies at the FCC.

So, the Internet is like Elvis. Super cool. Ahead of its time. Then along comes Colonel Parker and guides him to superstardom. Except, Colonel Parker really didn’t have Elvis’ best interests at heart. And eventually, Elvis is dancing and singing in some pretty awful movies, he gets fat, and dies a tragic death and once he was dead everyone goes around saying how great he was and his estate makes more money from him then when he was alive.

Except, Elvis was a tragic figure. His life was cut short tragically. The hagiography is a result of that tragedy, controlled and manipulated into a pretty interesting industry.

We are just left with a taste of the wild and the untamed rock and roller.

We may end up with a taste of the wild exciting Internet and may get stuck with a bunch of gatekeepers, the same ones that kind of mess up our phone service and calling plans and the only companies that are able to work with them are the existing powerhouses with the money and resources to make their way through the mire of regulations that comes with being in the utilities business.