Net Neutrality – What’s the Latest?

Net Neutrality is one of the hottest topics in the news this week.  Net Neutrality is likely to significantly impact the Internet and freedom and nearly all Americans for years to come, if it is not thrown out by the courts, or by new legislation, or by a future FCC composed of a majority of individuals who support Internet freedom.  While Net Neutrality was sold to the American people as providing fairness and openness of broadband services to all content providers, Net Neutrality is basically Not Neutrality and it isn’t even primarily about Net Neutrality.  Rather, Net Neutrality is about strong-handed utility regulation, taxation, and control of the Internet under the guise of “fairness.”  Let’s look at the latest on Net Neutrality …

1. What’s the Latest Legally?

On a strictly party-line vote, three democratic FCC commissioners outvoted two Republican FCC commissioners and passed the 300+ page White House Net Neutrality regulation package without opening the package to the 30 day public review period many people sought.  So, Net Neutrality passed.  Of course, it is still secret and the FCC has not yet announced a date when it will become public.  Some information has come out; the two Republican FCC commissioners indicate it’s worse than expected.  They’ve had the advantage of having access to its contents.

2. What’s Next Legally?

Most likely, the FCC will spend some time editing and polishing the 300+ page regulatory package.  FCC Chairman Wheeler will probably face tough questions from several Congressional committees in mid-to-late March.  Then, the secret document will be released by publishing it on the FCC’s website.  Finally, 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, it should take effect.

Expect legal challenges from a number of sources.  Internet Service Providers might sue the FCC for inappropriate application of the 1934 Communications Act.  For example, you might see AT&T and Verizon sue the FCC.  Content Providers as well might sue because of the uncertainty Net Neutrality causes them.  Others impacted might sue as well.

Congress also might attempt to design its own “Net Neutrality” legislation that offers only very limited regulation of ISPs, but avoids many of the other potential adverse regulations such as price controls and business model restrictions.

3. What is the General Conduct Rule for Internet Regulation?  Is it a Big Problem?

Apparently, the Net Neutrality regulation package is thought to include a General Conduct Rule.  This means that the FCC would have power to individually scrutinize the conduct of companies involved on the Internet on a case-by-case basis.  Any business partnerships, business models, service bundles could be subject to an assessment by the FCC as to whether or not they are “just and reasonable.”  The bottom line could be convoluted micro-management of the Internet, bureaucratic entanglements, complex litigation, endless delays, fewer services, additional costs, and reduced innovation.

Following a case-by-case approach could also open up the possibility of cronyism and favoritism.  Let’s hope not.

4. What about Free Speech?  Is that impacted?

According to The Wall Street Journal, one of the 7 standards of the General Conduct Rule is the ”effect on free expression.”  This should raise a big, RED FLAG, with free speech advocates.  If the FCC gets to rule on whether a website or web service is providing “just and reasonable” services based on its effect on the free expression of ideas, that raises the possibility of adopting the Fairness Doctrine by another means.

For example, are the news services provided by sites like the Drudge Report “just and reasonable?”  Does Drudge have an impact on “free expression?”

Recall that this is the FCC that proposed in 2014 sending monitors into TV and radio newsrooms to ask reporters, editors, and station owners, what their news philosophy is, and why do they run certain stories.  The FCC also proposed sending monitors into newspaper newsrooms too.  Incidentally, the FCC has NO legislative authority to monitor or regulate newspapers.  It seems to be outside their charter.

For More Information

For more information, please read my newest book: Renewing America and Its Heritage of Freedom: What Freedom-Loving Americans Can Do to Help. It’s available in both print and Kindle editions.

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