FCC Passes Network Neutrality Rules

The dilution of strong network neutrality continued yesterday with the FCC approving the draft plan as released earlier in a three to two vote. Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica has a good summary of the proceedings, including initial reactions from those supporting network neutrality.

Even before today’s vote, some reform groups expressed their disappointment with the mildness of the decision; for instance, here’s a dispatch from the Media Access Project.

“MAP respects and admires the work of Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Mignon Clyburn on this important issue, but MAP cannot support the watered-down, loophole-ridden option that the FCC appears to have chosen,” the group’s statement last night declared. (Note that Chairman Genachowski doesn’t share in this admiration.) “The inadequate protections for wireless technologies are especially troublesome, as wireless services provide an onramp to the Internet for many of the nation’s poor and minority citizens.”

Cellular internet is to be held to the weaker, partial standard already mentioned. So-called special services are still granted a troubling exemption except for some vague notions of monitoring for anti-competituve behavior. For the most strictly regulated wired internet, loopholes abound in the form of allowances for “reasonable” network management where the measure of reasonableness isn’t clearly defined.

Ryan Singel at Wired, with help from Sam Gustin, has some more supposition on how we came to this lamentable pass, namely the nigh unstoppable lobbying power of AT&T. He at least concedes that part of the reason for the weakness of the new rules stems from the commission’s unclear authority in the wake of the ruling against it in the Comcast case over the cableco’s throttling of BitTorrent traffic.

What we’re left with is undoubtedly a long chain of future case law to try to pin down the shape and size of the various loopholes in this plan. Meanwhile, ISPs and carriers will no doubt get a pass to pretty much carry on as usual. Like many others, I am left wondering why the commissioners who supported Title II re-classification didn’t push harder. That too would have led to any number of court cases but would have been far more fruitful, in the meantime, and in the process of whittling down a coarse but strong set of rules would have been far more certain to yield a final set of compromises giving as much weight to public interest as to the unending rent-seeking of the ISPs and carriers.

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