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Finally, Net Neutrality is Within Sight

net 1Today, we celebrated. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled that the Commission is finally making real progress on net neutrality. But the fight isn’t over by a long shot.

Proponents of net neutrality claim that big telecom companies seek to impose a tiered service model in order to control the pipeline and thereby remove competition, create artificial scarcity, and oblige subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services. Many believe net neutrality to be primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms. Prominent supporters of net neutrality include Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the Web.

See also: Secret Multi-Billion Dollar Wireless Scam, Reed Hundt’s True Legacy

Until recently “net neutrality” was little more than a buzzword to most Americans, an arcane concept within an equally arcane sector of telecommunications law. But fierce resistance to a plan proposed last spring by Chairman Wheeler that Internet advocates said would have undermined net neutrality — the concept that all data on the Net must be treated equally by Internet service providers (ISPs) — has pushed this once obscure idea into the DC limelight.

Joshua Kopstein at Al Jazeera America

“The plan Wheeler announced last May would have permitted ISPs such as Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner to give faster, priority access to sites and services able to pay for it as long as those deals were deemed commercially reasonable. But in a surprising about-face, he is now proposing rules that ban that practice by treating wired and wireless broadband Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — much like the telephone system.”

But Wheeler has changed his tune for the better –

“The Internet must be fast, fair and open. That is the message I’ve heard from consumers and innovators across this nation,” Wheeler wrote today in an article for Wired. “That is the principle that has enabled the Internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression … The proposal I present to the commission will ensure the Internet remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans.”

This sudden turnabout of recent months has shocked the big telecoms and even net neutrality advocates, who until recently had relatively few powerful allies in their corner.

net 3For years, deep-pocketed telecommunications concerns, like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, have lobbied heavily against rules that would prevent them from creating fast and slow lanes, all while arguing they favor net neutrality. Without those rules, large ISPs are free to create what they call paid prioritization arrangements. That means that in addition to charging customers for Internet access, they can also charge websites and services (such as Netflix, Amazon and your next door neighbor’s blog) for the privilege of reaching users quickly.

And because the FCC previously classified Internet providers under rules for information services rather than Title II telecommunications companies, a court ruled last year that the agency can’t stop them from selectively speeding up and slowing down traffic.

But the tide quickly turned — notably after comedian John Oliver’s viral video segment (above) attracted enough comments from opponents of the FCC proposal to crash the FCC website. The ensuing publicity led to dozens of Internet companies, including Netflix, Reddit and Mozilla, coming out strongly in favor of Title II net neutrality rules; and in November, they were joined by Obama.

A Fight for the Future

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans John Thune and Fred Upton — who both counted telecom companies among their financial supporters in last year’s elections — have introduced Internet legislation of their own. Their proposal would forbid blocking or slowing Internet traffic but would keep ISPs classified as lightly regulated information services, making it difficult if not impossible

But the net neutrality fight is a symptom of a much broader dissatisfaction with giant cable and Internet service providers. In many parts of the U.S., Americans must choose between one large cable company and one large phone company for Internet access, if they have any choice at all. That’s due to the large number of telecom mergers over the past two decades and the fact that the companies have lobbied successfully in 20 states to legally block cities and local communities from deploying broadband networks of their own.

Again, Joshua Kopstein / Al Jazeera –

“This lack of competition is largely why Americans pay significantly more money for slower Internet service compared with residents of other countries. Top ISPs Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which are currently seeking approval for a merger, consistently rank dead last in customer satisfaction rankings. It’s the product of a broadband market dominated by a small handful of powerful players, and the telecoms intend to keep it that way: Comcast holds eighth place for the most lobbying dollars spent in 2014, above defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin. And big ISPs are already preparing to take the FCC back to court if the new ruling subjects them to Title II regulation.”

The good news for consumers is that whatever becomes of the FCC’s new proposal, existing telecoms are already being challenged on multiple fronts. Google Fiber, the search giant’s high-speed Internet service, is quickly expanding into markets that once belonged exclusively to Comcast and Time Warner.

In other words, the FCC’s pivotal ruling may bring the current net neutrality battle to a close. But the bigger battle for the soul of broadband Internet will likely continue into the foreseeable future.


lynnea2 The BoardLynnea Bylund is managing director of Gandhi Legacy Tours, Director of Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, founder of Catalyst House and has nearly three decades of experience in administration, marketing and business development. She was a nationally recognized spokeswoman for the emerging alternative video and information delivery industries. She has a degree in holistic health-nutrition from the legendary and controversial health educator and activist Dr. Kurt Donsbach, she is the founder of two not-for-profit small business-based wireless trade associations and has lobbied on Capitol Hill and at the FCC where she has spoken out strongly against the cable TV monopoly, illegal spectrum warehousing and ill-conceived congressional schemes to auction our nation’s precious airwaves to the highest bidder.

Ms. Bylund is a founder and former CEO of a Washington DC telecommunications consulting and management company with holdings in several operating and developmental wireless communications systems and companies. In 1995 Lynnea became the first female in the world to be awarded a Broadband PCS operating permit – she was one of only 18 winners, along with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon in the biggest cash auction in world history, raising a whopping $7.7 billion. Lynnea also spear-headed the successful effort to launch the first cable TV network in the South Pacific islands.
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