A proposal by one man could change the Internet forever.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is floating proposals that could permanently threaten the concept of net neutrality.
Net neutrality means all web content is treated equal by Internet Service Providers. Practically speaking this means a broadband ISP like Comcast can't select which websites can run through its pipes and at what speeds—that all legal Internet content should be treated equal.
New Mexico's US senators, both Democrats, say they have concerns about the FCC's proposal. A company with a cash flow like Google would have less of a problem paying ISPs higher rates for faster service, critics say, but those rates could make it harder for a scrappy startup to take on the web giants.
"Like many New Mexicans, I have serious concerns about an FCC proposal that includes a 'fast lane' that could allow service providers to discriminate against small Internet businesses and weaken consumer protections," US Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a statement last week. "The Internet has always played a role in fostering innovation and education, and it promotes civic engagement. As a staunch supporter of net neutrality, I believe the FCC needs to establish strong, enforceable rules that ensure free speech, protect consumers, and preserve competition."
"I'm working in the Senate to encourage investments in broadband infrastructure so that people living in rural New Mexico are not stuck in an Internet 'slow lane,'" Udall said in a statement. "But allowing new 'toll lanes' on the Web could drastically change the Internet as we know it."
Udall add that he wants the FCC "to use its authority to preserve standards that allow the Web to continue to be a platform for free expression, to promote innovation, and help online entrepreneurs compete on a level playing field with established companies."
One of Wheeler's suggestions gives IPSs leeway in giving preference to certain types of web content under "commercially reasonable" terms—opening the door for ISPs to discriminate in how fast web content is delivered to consumers, who might be paying more for different tiers of service.
Wheeler defends his proposal. He says none of this would be allowed because the FCC would presumably regulate ISPs under the "commercially reasonable" terms and demand that ISPs provide "baseline" level of service to consumers.The FCC's rule change proceedings follows a recent ruling from the DC Circuit court in Verizon v. FCC. Wheeler says he wants to prevent broadband providers from being able to strike deals with Internet companies using aggressive regulation, but he appears reluctant to classify providers as a public utility, which would allow for more regulation. In the end, Wheeler says to be behind the FCC preventing broadband companies from discriminating against certain content through an enforcement scheme.
As comedian John Oliver notes, allowing Comcast to interpret "baseline level of service" is pretty scary when considering the the company can't even seem to marshall its $64 billion in revenue in a way that motivates its technicians to respond in a reasonable timeframe to a service call. Further terrifying about the scenario is the prospect of the FCC interpreting clauses like "baseline level of service," given Wheeler's immediate past as a cable industry lobbyist, and all that money Comcast has to lobby our seemingly unprincipled federal regulators.
But hey, at least corruption makes for good comedy. Watch the video while you can afford it, and submit a public comment on the proposal to the FCC before Sept. 10.
Meanwhile, ponder this: will the FCC's website be in the hypothetical "fast lane" of this dystopian future web? If so, guess who has to pay for that?