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The FCC Just Imprisoned the Internet

The FCC Just Imprisoned the Internet

Image courtesy of Thinkstock.

All of you who wanted net neutrality got it today (Thursday, February 26)—BIG TIME. The Federal Communications Commission voted today to impose Title II rules and regulations of the Communications Act of 1934 on the Internet.  This means that we go from an already free and open Internet to one now fully regulated as a utility.

Under the influence of the current administration, the FCC Commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines to impose the regulations as defined in a 332-page document.  And by the way, no one affected by this ruling ever saw this document prior to the vote.  How’s that for openness?  Just like Obamacare was passed by Congress. No one actually knew what was in that 2000+ page document before it was passed into law. Now we have Obamacare of the Internet.

The whole idea of net neutrality was to keep the Internet open and unrestricted so that innovations and investments could happen without scrutiny. The rules of net neutrality are supposed to keep Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, throttling, or delaying information regardless of source or destination.  Actually we had that benefit even without regulation.  And paid prioritization is a no-no.

And, get this: The new rules apply not only to the wired cable and telecommunications companies, but wireless providers as well. The fear is that the ISPs will get greedy and impose their own guidelines and fees.  Well, that hasn’t happened.  Now the ISPs are going to have to follow some rigid rules that will undoubtedly interfere with their own plans and procedures.  The wireless service providers are really hacked over this.

If you read the summary of these regulations, they appear to be fair and reasonable (go to http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-adopts-strong-sustainable-rules-protect-open-internet).

However, the regulatory words sugarcoat the whole process. It makes the case for protecting the consumer, but not the mean old business owners.  The guidelines seem logical and evenhanded. Remember this, though—regulation is regulation and it will always be subject to interpretation and enforcement by the government. What may be fair at the outset may not stay that way.

I doubt the Internet will feel much measurable impact initially, but the consequences could eventually affect innovation, investment, and pricing. I suspect consumers will ultimately pay more for broadband services. I even fear for free speech. I cannot imagine that the government isn’t already trying to figure out how to get some tax money out of this.  Maybe not now, but later.

Is there anything that can be done about this? Maybe. Congress had its chance to intervene, yet wound up conceding.  One more failure for our elected representatives.  It is doubtful they could do anything in the future. One approach that may work is going the way of lawsuits. Maybe some relief can come through the courts, but don’t hold your breath. Still, look for some early cases that will question the new regulations.

The government already regulates practically everything we do. Now the last free thing we had is under government control.  How’s that going to work out?  It remains to be seen, but be afraid in the meantime.  Whatever happened to freedom?

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