The thorny issue of net neutrality has been widely debated this year. President Barack Obama, fresh from a stinging rebuke by American voters in the US mid-term election, came out swinging espousing a populist position. On the surface it makes sense to oppose the concept of Internet providers being allowed to charge higher rates to create websites with ’fast lanes’. Besides, the large tech corporations are seen as Republican leaning and enemies of the common man. But in championing a free Internet, Obama also raised the specter of the Internet being regulated as a utility and has assumed a position contrary to his hand-picked FCC chairman,Tom Wheeler. The FCC commissioners who draft the rules are, like Wheeler, appointed.
The president is trying to sway Wheeler to his way of thinking as he attempts to regain ground lost in the election last Tuesday. ’Like the president, I believe that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression,” said Wheeler on Monday. ’We cannot allow broadband networks to cut special deals to prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition and innovation.
It should be noted here that the five person FCC panel that will decide the matter is comprised of three democrats. Even so, it is likely to be be debated contentiously and the outcome unclear. It is shaping up as a traditional debate over who is best able to influence business favorably- the free market or the government or in other words a typical Republican versus Democrat donnybrook. .
If the subject in question were as simple as denying Internet giants like Comcast and AT&T the right to charge extra for faster service, then the battle lines might be more clear. But Obama has complicated the situation with his approach. He would view the Internet as a utility, thus treating the Internet behemoths as you would your local utility. While that may solve the problem of them blocking legal websites or relegating them to a “slow lane” if they don’t pay a higher fee, it runs the risk of overbearing government regulation commensurate with a utility. Not a pleasant notion to ponder.
Earlier this year the FCC seemed to lean favorably to opposing net neutrality as it proposed that Amazon could pay Comcast to speed up service for its customers. But opponents worried that smaller Amazon rivals would not be able to compete. Obama maintains, ’Companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business.”
Though the mid-term elections are barely out of the public consciousness, eyes have already shifted to the presidential contest of 2016. This is the big enchilada and it requires mountains of money to influence the outcome. The big Internet providers have the cash to sway the decision. Right now they stand adamantly opposed to anything that smacks of government regulation which they see as tying their hands. In fact, they have successfully resisted past attempts to reclassify broadband as a utility.
So, in a nutshell, this argument will be framed by the dilemma. Can you keep the Internet open and free while proposing a policy which would add regulation of it? Is it an attempt by a voracious government as a takeover? Or is it a genuine attempt by the administration to thwart what it sees as a monopoly? What’s your opinion?
Please note that any views expressed by Stan are entirely his alone. The core BestVPN staff are 100 percent pro net neutrality, and readers should look out for an alternative take on this subject to be published soon.