FCC bashing becomes the vogue

19 May 2014

You have to worry when, for no apparent reason, the telecoms industry regulator in one of the world’s leading economies starts to meddle in something that seems to be working quite alright.

It gets even more bizarre when its chairman appears to make an about turn on his original stance and starts to raise the ire of those whose interest he is supposed to be protecting.

It seems that the chairman of the FCC in the US, Ed Wheeler, can’t quite get his ducks lined up. He started by supporting his predecessor’s stance on net neutrality and an open internet with equal access to all, free of restraints imposed by those providing access to it. This stance held that data on the internet should be treated equally, without discrimination or differential charging by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

The Insider has always taken the view that if any ISP or CSP attempted to do anything differently then the free market forces would come into play and people would move elsewhere. That’s how the mobile industry works, right? And that is stifled by enormous amounts of regulation.

Network operators argued that as they were making all the investments in infrastructure to access the internet they should be allowed to provide different levels of service and charge for them accordingly. Their arguments were apparently heard and in April the FCC was reported to be considering a new rule that would permit ISPs to offer content providers a faster track to send content, thus reversing their earlier net neutrality position.

This would allow ISPs to offer enhanced services to digital content providers, like Netflix, that needed guaranteed service levels to deliver high-bandwidth content like streamed HD video. Seems a fair enough stance, but the howls of protest have begun in earnest, and from some rather unusual quarters.

The Future of Music Coalition and Free Press sent Commissioner Wheeler an open letter arguing that the new rules he was proposing would favor corporations like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon over individual artists and creators. The letter (below) was signed by a number of musicians, including Michael Stipe, Jeff Mangum, Fugazi, tUnE-yArDs, Neko Case, Roger Waters, Eddie Vedder, Fred Armisen, Kimya Dawson, Tom Morello, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth, Mirah, YACHT, the Postal Service’s Jimmy Tamborello, Kronos Quartet, and many others.

Dear Chairman Wheeler:
The open internet has powered the creative community’s pursuits and offerings in the 21st century. As members of this community, we urge the Federal Communications Commission to protect the open internet as a vehicle for free expression and collaboration.

The internet is the communications medium of our era. Serving as a platform to anyone with an idea, the open internet empowers freedom of speech and freedom of expression. But the FCC is now proposing rules that would kill — rather than protect — net neutrality and allow rampant discrimination online.

Under these rules, telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon would be able to pick winners and losers online and discriminate against online content and applications.

The open internet’s impact on the creative community cannot be overstated. The internet has enabled artists to connect directly with each other and with audiences. It has eliminated the barriers of geography and taken collaborations to new levels. And it has allowed people — not corporations — to seek out the film, music and art that moves them.

Allowing broadband providers to control this once-open platform shifts power away from individual artists and creators and interferes with freedom of speech and expression. Unless the Commission restores strong nondiscrimination protections based on a solid legal framework, creativity, cultural commerce and free expression will suffer.

Your proposed path would open the door to widespread discrimination online. It would give internet service providers the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes that would be disastrous for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls. We urge you to scrap these proposed rules and instead restore the principle of online nondiscrimination by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service.

Wow, they didn’t mince their words, did they? No doubt there will be others rising to the challenge but what exactly are they proposing the FCC should do? Maybe a simple ‘butt out’ would suffice? If the internet has worked OK up until now, and shows no real signs of needing regulation, why bother? Let the market decide — after all, it appears to be the best arbiter of what it likes and doesn’t like.

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