The Ambiguity that is Net Neutrality

The idea of net neutrality is that all Internet traffic is equal — whether it’s a movie streaming from Netflix or a Tweet and is to be treated the same by Internet Service Providers (IPS’s.) But a current proposal could allow the federal government to become the gatekeepers of cyberspace.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to recommend regulating Internet service like a public utility. This would reclassify high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service, under Title II of the Communications Act .

The change, pushed by President Obama, would give the federal government the authority to make sure that content is not blocked and no so-called pay-to-play fast lanes exist. However Texas Senator Ted Cruz calls the president’s plan, “Obamacare for the Internet.”

That’s because Title II was meant for the bygone era of telephone service monopoly. It wasn’t intended to be applied to services not characterized by monopoly, like Internet access.

Wheeler insists that “a light-touch approach” would be used, instead of directly regulating pricing decisions. He also suggests putting wireless data services under Title II and adding regulations for companies that manage the backbone of the Internet.

One study released in December 2014 shows consumers could pay an extra $84 per year if IPS’s are regulated like public utilities. This is because they would be forced to give to state and federal programs that seek to make sure access to telecommunication services.

A vote on the proposal by the full commission is scheduled for February 26.


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