Net Neutrality: FCC Faces Powerful Lobby and Partisan Politics

Published: May 20, 2014 19:04pm EDT
By Rick Rinker, Political Editor for Konsume Politics

Please Note: This article was updated May 20, 2014 @ 07:04pm EDT


If there was anything made clear from the House Technology and Communication subcommittee hearing with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday, it was that the future of Net Neutrality is far from certain, but it doesn’t look good.

In January an appeals court struck down the FCC’s Net Neutrality rule, which would require all Internet service providers to treat data equally.

Last week the FCC responded by releasing a new proposal on Net Neutrality, which includes so called “fast lanes” that would allow your Internet provider to slow down data from Netflix or YouTube unless these content providers paid a fee to your Internet provider.

House members of Congress then asked Chairman Wheeler to clarify the proposal, and answer a number of pointed questions. The result was a contradictory shift in position from the FCC’s proposal, which reaffirmed the motives and position of each party.

House Republicans oppose not just the narrow scope of “fast lanes” but also the FCC’s attempt classify Internet Providers as a utility, which would strip its authority to regulate the Internet altogether. This would mean that Internet providers such as Verizon and AT&T would be able to charge a fee to Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and others in order to access Internet users.

Democrats meanwhile remain opposed to any situation in which Internet providers would delay or block data from reaching paying Internet customers, and see the FCC as the oversight body to ensure an open Internet moving forward.

The FCC is now in a delicate balancing act of ambiguity as it tries to spin the FCCs position in such a way to placate Democrats, Republicans as well as maintaining compliance with existing court rulings.

Chairman Wheeler today stated that he does not oppose an open Internet, however when probed further he did not categorically rule out throttling, which would allow ISPs to slow down connections between consumers and content providers (such as Netflix or YouTube.)

Even before Tuesday’s House Oversight Meeting there were calls for the President to demote Mr. Wheeler as chairman with one of the four other FCC commissioners.

The pending mergers between Comcast and Time Warner, as well as AT&T and DirecTV, create a small group of Telecom gate-keepers who will face less competition, and more incentive, to impose a surcharge on both content creators as well as Internet subscribers.

These Telecom companies represent the overwhelming majority of lobbying power in Washington as it relates to the issue of net neutrality. In fact, lobbying efforts from Telecom Providers vs. Open Internet proponents reveal a nearly 3-to-1 imbalance in terms of lobbying intensity.

This may help explain why so many members of the House seem to have an altered view of just how important a truly open Internet is for the future of innovation. If startups have to face a paywall just to reach the total Internet population, it could spell disaster for innovation in technology moving forward.

During Tuesdays congressional hearing, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) seemed to have a confused view of an open Internet, comparing Netflix to an airline customer who demands use of the entire plane for the price of a single ticket.

Though he gave somewhat evasive answers on Tuesday, to the dismay of both Democrats and Republicans on the House subcommittee, Wheeler did the best he could to serve the many masters the FCC has inside, and outside, of Washington.

The issue of an open Internet is in grave danger, particularly when you consider the overwhelming majority of Internet users (and voters) who have a limited understanding of what net neutrality is, and why it is important. Combine this with the overwhelming force of the Telecom lobby, and the future of net neutrality begins to look bleak.


Comments (1)

  • Anonymous   May 20, 2014 @ 08:34PM
    The future of the Internet...

    WITHOUT NET NEUTRALITY, it's another money grab for the rich... and censorship!

    It means...

    a) ISP approved content totally controlled by Mega-Corporations like Time-Warner, Verizon, AT&T, Etc... For Payment of a FEE = That Internet Content FULL SPEED FAST INTERNET!!!

    b) All other (free) internet content such as youtube, independent small business websites, personal websites, non-profit group sites, etc. = PAINFULLY SLOW!!!


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