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OPLIN 4cast #383: Network (non?)neutrality

Posted in 4cast

FCC sealLast Thursday, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that laid out changes the Commission will be considering in order to comply with a January court ruling striking down the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order. You’ve probably seen the ensuing news stories, many of which have a headline something like “FCC Kills Net Neutrality,” since the NPRM is much more lax about “pay-to-play” deals for Internet traffic than the 2010 order. Network neutrality is seen as an issue for libraries; the American Library Association, for instance, has concerns that if companies can pay for Internet “fast lanes,” libraries and other non-commercial organizations will end up in the “slow lanes.” But this is a very complex issue that is easily misunderstood. We’ve gathered some articles below which try to untangle and dispassionately explain the issue (despite some of their headlines).

  • Does anyone like the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules? (Re/code /Amy Schatz)  “Net neutrality is the concept that Internet providers can’t block or discriminate among legal Internet traffic. [FCC Chairman Tom] Wheeler has proposed allowing Internet providers charge content providers for faster connections to subscribers on the public Internet. Federal regulators would limit how Internet providers could offer such services, but the proposal sparked an outcry from net neutrality proponents who believe the change guts the concept of an open Internet.”
  • The FCC’s “fast lane” rule is awful for the Internet—just ask the FCC (Ars Technica/Jon Brodkin)  “The FCC could have reinstated all the rules in that [2010 Open Internet] order by reclassifying ISPs as common carriers, but it chose not to. On the plus side, Wheeler says the new rules will prevent ‘blocking of lawful content’ just as the old ones did. But payments in exchange for an Internet fast lane will be allowed as long as they’re ‘commercially reasonable,’ a much lower standard than the one adopted in 2010.”
  • How the FCC plans to save the Internet by destroying it: An explainer (Medium/Ryan Singel)  “So this is what the FCC is going to do for the entire internet. It’s going to allow ISPs to charge Netflix and YouTube and whomever for fast access. ISPs won’t be able to block services, but it doesn’t have to provide services on a fair basis. The FCC is going to try to draw up rules that try to make those agreements sort-of-fair, but the strongest those rules can be is holding ISPs to standard called ‘commercially reasonable’. If it tries to make the rules actually fair, then the FCC has overstepped its authority.”
  • Net neutrality: A guide to (and history of) a contested idea (The Atlantic/Alexis C. Madrigal and Adrienne LaFrance)  “If it is so obvious, though, that net neutrality is a good thing, then why has it remained a contested idea? There are complications. The purity of [Lawrence] Lessig’s e2e [‘end to end’] principle does not remain in practice: there is a long tradition of paid commercial arrangements between content owners and network operators. Content-delivery networks that have already created a ‘fast lane’ for most professional sites, albeit independently of the network owners. And as Pennsylvania law professor Chris Yoo has long argued (contra Wu), there might be benefits to non-neutral networks.”

Ironic fact:
Many point to the recent deal Netflix made with Comcast for an Internet “fast lane” as the beginning of the end of network neutrality, so it is ironic that in other news last week, Netflix will now be provided by some cable companies, instead of relying on the Internet for content delivery.