Net neutrality wins for now; FCC votes 3-2 to regulate the Internet as a utility
A public utility is defined as a business that furnishes an everyday necessity to the public at large. Your gas, electric and water are public utilities. And now, at least in the U.S., so is the Internet.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3 to 2 today to regulate your broadband Internet access as a public utility. The vote was a straight party line vote. That fact likely will mean little in the next election as Republicans try to put this vote behind them.
Is the Internet an everyday necessity? I think so. Millions think so. But millions also believe that anything the U.S. government touches is ruined, better that Comcast and AT&T decide.
“The internet is simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said. “Today’s order is more powerful and more expansive than any previously suggested.”
But if there are those who think the issue of Net Neutrality is settled, they better think again. First, this vote can always be overturned, neutralized, made irrelevant by any FCC composed of members who think differently than the three members who voted “yes”.
But, far more importantly, one should understand that public utilities are governed by commissions made up of appointed members who often come from the industries they are supposed to regulate. The deregulation of the airline industry, for instance, may have driven airline prices down, but they also drove down profits and have since driven down quality of service. A regulated airline industry probably would be one with higher prices, fewer choices, as well as better service. Would that be good for customers? I think so, but I know many would prefer the business environment they have now (though they probably don’t think that way when stuck on a plane, fifty feet from the gate, with no word on when they will be let out).
By voting to regulate the Internet as a utility, the FCC has opened the Pandora’s Box of all the evils that regulation can entail, but also raises the possibility that consumers won’t be at the mercy of the current bad lot of ISPs. Those ISPs probably now regret that lawsuit that set today’s actions in motion. By ruling for Verizon based on the idea that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate it convinced some in the FCC, and most important, the White House, that slapping the Title II designation on broadband Internet would be necessary. Chairman Wheeler probably was not at first convinced, but he was one of the three Yes votes today.
I am one of those who rightly should not complain: my service is incredibly fast compared to many, sometimes above 125 Mbps. But I pay for that service, which is bundled with a bunch of things I don’t want or need, and which I really have no choice but buying in order to get that kind of speed. Free enterprise, like freedom of the press, is only for the executives owning the business, not you or I. I am no more free to choose my Internet provider, if I want a certain level of performance, than I would be free to choose my water provider.
Today’s vote settles very little, and many think the IPs are not so unhappy with today’s vote. They know how the game is played when dealing with commissions, they will simply keep playing those games. But, at least for today, a lot of those who think net neutrality is a good idea are happy. Maybe today’s vote was historic, or maybe the media (as usual) is overplaying this. In either case, the story is far from over.