The End of Net Neutrality

Under Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC is embarking on a rewrite of its Net Neutrality rules, as required by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, that rewrite, per reports, permits Internet Service Providers to charge websites and content producers — Netflix, Google, etc. — for priority service. Why is this bad? Because it leaves everyone else in the non-priority lanes, where service is slower and poorer quality. Internet service is a zero-sum game; if some services in the pipe get priority because they pay an extra fee or toll, then everyone else’s service will be degraded. Thus, smaller upstarts, independent artists and producers, the non-established — they will be squeezed out. The large, wealthy incumbents will rule the day, and the Internet becomes their cable TV system.  Think of the Internet we have today, all websites are created equal, and compare that to cable television. In cable TV, it’s your cable provider and channel operators who choose what channels (websites) they will serve you. On the Internet, you, the consumer, have that power. Cable TV is what the Internet will increasingly resemble if the current FCC proposal becomes law.

What is shocking here is how this is an absolute betrayal by one of President Obama’s appointees of a key Obama campaign promise in both 2008 and 2012. Obama’s campaign platform had it exactly right: “pay for play” discrimination is antithetical to our idea of an open and free Internet.  Favoring one company’s content over another is the very definition of discrimination; it is Orwellian to say it does not end “neutrality.”  Chairman Wheeler would be well served re-reading the campaign platform of his boss. Tim Wu has an excellent article on this issue in The New Yorker, here.