FCC Proposes Giving the FCC More Discretion Over the Internet

(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)Net neutrality advocates grew rather upset yesterday when reports surfaced indicating that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was about to propose giving up on the concept. (Sample freak out: "The FCC's new net neutrality rules will brutalize the Internet.")

Throughout the Obama administration, the tech regulator has been embroiled in legal battles over its net neutrality regulations, with courts twice striking down the agency’s rules. The FCC proposal has not been made public yet, but based on early reports, it looked to some as if the agency was giving up in the wake of multiple legal defeats.

The reports said that the FCC would be open to allowing Internet service providers (ISPs) to negotiate tiered service arrangements, or Internet fast lanes, with web content providers like Netflix and Google. Those deals, however, would still be subject to some minimum service requirements as well as the FCC's review.

"Broadband providers would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers, along with the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers," an unnamed FCC official told The Washington Post. "In all instances, broadband providers would need to act in a commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis."

Late last night, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to criticism, saying that reports that the agency is "gutting the Open Internet rule" are "flat out wrong." There would be no policy turnaround, and "behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted."

It's obviously impossible to judge the new guidelines without seeing them, and that may not happen for a while. The proposal was supposed to begin circulating today, but isn't set to be made public for another month when the rules are brought to a vote.

But from what's been said so far, this isn't so much a turnaround in policy as a shift in emphasis, and a return to former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's original notion for how the FCC would maintain Internet openness. The essence of Genachowski's idea was that the FCC would officially look down on arrangements in which ISPs discriminated between different content providers. But exactly what would and wouldn't be prohibited was rather murky. What Genachowski wanted was for the agency to "evaluate alleged violations of the non-discrimination principle as they arise, on a case-by-case basis."

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The case-by-case standard was necessary in part because there was no real way to define what would and would not be allowed. A strict rule would almost certainly end up prohibiting totally reasonable instances of smart network management, or services that were widely judged to be beneficial. But the end result was that there was no real rule at all, just a vague sense that the Internet should be open which the FCC would enforce at its discretion.

In other words, the FCC would pronounce itself the arbiter of what was and wasn't reasonable, and then make determinations on a case-by-case basis. That's more or less what the unnamed FCC official told the Post would be happening here.

What we're left with, then, is not a world in which net neutrality has been gutted, or in which it has been preserved, but one in which the FCC has proposed a vague standard that boils down to minimally checked agency discretion. What's allowed and what's not won't depend on rules so much as the regulatory agency's whims.  

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  • UnCivilServant||

    In other news, water is wet, cop shoots dog and politicians lie.

    More at Eleven.

  • ||

    What's allowed and what's not won't depend on rules so much as the regulatory agency's whims

    Which is exactly what the unaccountable bureaucrats want.

    Net Neutrality advocates have to be the stupidest mother fuckers on the planet. They want to give an unaccountable bureaucracy the power to control the internet so they can't have their torrents throttled. An unaccountable bureaucracy that is part of a government that is so heavily lobbied by the companies that don't want you torrenting their stuff that we got things like the DMCA.

    They're geniuses all right. That extra chromosome tells us so.

  • Acosmist||

    This.

    They're begging the FCC to regulate it, and watch them be surprised when the FCC says "Oh yeah, now that we think of it, these illegal downloads aren't covered by neutrality, so in fact we're going to REQUIRE isps to throttle you."

    That's...how government works.

  • ||

    The other thing I see is NN advocates who are so bonecrushingly stupid that they're pushing this pretty much solely because they hate Comcast (or some other ISP). They're really that fucking dumb.

  • Jordan||

    The very same Comcast that gets granted local monopolies, even up to the point of being allowed to veto new competitors from entering the market. God, these people are cro-magnon level stupid.

  • Hyperion||

    Anyone who doesn't hate Comcast, have never had Comcast. In the 5 years that I have had their service, because just like Jordan said, they have monopolies, I could write a log of their stupidity that would be longer than the ACA bill. They are the undisputed worst and most incompetent company in the history of civilization.

  • Hyperion||

    BTW, Epi, I'm not disagreeing with you about Net Neutrality and the people who support it, or the FCC, we are in complete agreement on that.

  • ||

    I absolutely hate Comcast, and I am a current customer of theirs, so I know. But that has no bearing on NN unless you're an idiot (not saying you are, I see your second comment).

  • Brett L||

    They are the undisputed worst and most incompetent company in the history of civilization.

    Well, you say that. But you obviously never had cellphone service with Sprint.

  • Hyperion||

    If you have never had Comcast, you have no idea. I am serious, I could write a post here that would take hours just logging my experiences of their unrivaled stupidity and absolute lack of any resemblance of customer service.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    There is only one solution to that problem and that is competition.

  • Hyperion||

    There is only one solution to that problem and that is competition.

    True, that.

  • Brett L||

    If you have never had Comcast, you have no idea.

    I have. I switched to CenturyLink several years ago. And laughed to myself when the Comcast trucks spent several hours in my neighborhood yesterday. Still, Comcast never lied about shipping me new equipment, and then told me I couldn't send it back even after I told them I didn't want it.

    I told Sprint I would never give them another dime, and I have never been so happy to get a collections letter as when that one came through.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Sprint got so bad that I sued them and won. That's when I decided that the legal system was broken.

    Class actions are bullshit. My lawyers walked away with over $2 million for minimal work.

  • Invisible Finger||

    and absolute lack of any resemblance of customer service.

    Comcast's customer service is unionized. So is AT&T's. That is why they both suck.

    That's the great thing about government-granted oligopoly - the illusion of competition coupled with the union cronyism.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I had no idea they were unionized. That's interesting to say the least.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Scruffy,

    The town I work in presently, back in the old POTS days did not have AT&T. Their engineers were excellent. AT&T finally swallowed up that company a few years ago and that is how I learned as the engineers still work in the area.

    Before I knew this, I wondered why a customer service rep put the phone down while I was talking to him and started fucking (literally) another woman in his cubicle. That is a firing offense if you are not protected by a union.

    This is why you can generally get better price quotes if you go through their websites instead of calling customer service. But of course the union wants to be able to butt-in to your web session and "allow" you to converse with a customer service rep.

    The companies KNOW their customer service sucks and there is nothing they can do about it.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I used to have Vonage several years ago. All my calls clearly went to a customer service center in India. Except when I wanted to cancel and port the number. Then, the call went to a surly guy in New York.

  • Jordan||

    Before I knew this, I wondered why a customer service rep put the phone down while I was talking to him and started fucking (literally) another woman in his cubicle.

    Haha what the hell?

  • Jordan||

    For sure. FUUUUUUUUUUUCK Comcast. But fuck the FCC more.

  • Acosmist||

    Comcast is a loathsome crony organization.

    That said, I had Comcast in my apartment, and it was both fast and reliable. Verizon was the thing that was shit.

  • Pro Libertate||

    "Behold a god who bleeds!"

  • waffles||

    You don't get it. The FCC is accountable to the people. Who are the corporations accountable to? Money! And since the people are essentially good and money is the root of all evil we'd be foolish to let the corporations run roughshod over our lives. The government will be our champion.

  • Plopper||

    Lol, just had an argument less than an hour ago with some net neutrality zombie.

    In the end his only defense was that they will definitely switch to a "multi-tiered" internet, if we don't get net neutrality.

  • Paul.||

    The reports said that the FCC would be open to allowing Internet service providers (ISPs) to negotiate tiered service arrangements, or Internet fast lanes, with web content providers like Netflix and Google.

    They're open to allowing? They're open to the idea? How about getting open to the idea they have no authority whatsoever to disallow it!

  • sarcasmic||

    That which is not explicitly allowed is verboten.

  • ||

    Language matters, Paul. If they keep saying that they allow it, soon people start thinking that they actually have the power to disallow, even thought they don't.

  • Plopper||

    The person I was arguing with just an hour ago said if we didn't get net neutrality this is what would happen.

    I am totally fucking dying of laughter right now.

  • Paul.||

    "In all instances, broadband providers would need to act in a commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis."

    That's a lot of cases. What is this, the FCC Bureaucrat Full-employment Act?

    It's obviously impossible to judge the new guidelines without seeing them, and that may not happen for a while

    Most transparent administration evah!

    former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's original notion for how the FCC would maintain Internet openness

    Openness must be maintained by closing down the following types of internet!

  • albo||

    Rule of Law? Pfft. Rule of Situation and Whim is the new hotness.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    "Net neutrality" is the latest incarnation of government enforced trespassing. Of course, the geeks who are into this only want trespassing on other people's networks, not their own.

    And to think they hated the Bell telephone just a few years ago for getting a similar deal in the 1800s when telegraph firms had to carry Bell signals across their lines.

  • Paul.||

    That was Telegraph neutrality. This is totally different.

  • PapayaSF||

    I might be missing something, but I fail to see a terrible threat in "tiered service arrangements." Don't we already have that sort of thing, when big users like Google and Netflix buy lots of bandwidth, or contract with Akamai, etc.? Even the different levels of bandwidth you buy from your ISP are basically "tiered service arrangements," aren't they?

  • Paul.||

    Case-by-case.... CASE-BY-CASE!

  • Plopper||

    Yeah... I don't get it.

  • ||

    That's because this, like so many "issues" that seem to become rallying points for idiots, isn't about what they pretend it's about. The consistent features I've seen in the people who doggedly want NN are:

    1. They want the big ISPs to get fucked by the government because they hate them. They hate them because they are corporations, because they have atrocious customer service, because they have local monopolies. Fuck, I hate them. But I'm not stupid enough to think that having the ultimate monopoly corporation (the government) take over is somehow a solution.

    2. They want "free" high bandwith (not have to pay for tiered) so they can torrent/stream/whatever to their hearts' content. These fucking mongoloids actually think that the government won't come after their torrents and piracy, somehow. Even though the entertainment/media lobby is one of the biggest and most powerful in DC.

    3. General "the government needs to regulate this!" sentiment, even though everything they love about the internet is a product of the government being kept away from it.

    They are staggeringly dumb.

  • Paul.||

    As someone who's spent too many years in IT, the thing that gives me the biggest sad, is it's most often technically savvy people who want NN.

    "If government can make my torrentz go faster, then the government should make my torrentz go faster."

  • ||

    Too many people, who may even be technically savvy, suffer from one or more of the conditions I listed above. In their myopic stupidity, they don't consider the effects of obtaining whichever of those three conditions they want. They literally are too dumb to think past "ha, Comcast is getting fucked!" or "I have super-high bandwith at a low price!"

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Superhigh bandwidth isn't even that expensive. I have 300/150 mbps, and it is cheap enough that I have the bill on autopay.

  • Paul.||

    I have 300/150 mbps, and it is cheap enough that I have the bill on autopay.

    You have your Ferrari payment on the same autopay?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I get TV (including 2 cable cards for Tivo), internet, and phone through Fios for around $115 before taxes.

  • Paul.||

    internet, and phone through Fios for around $115 before taxes.

    ?!

  • Ted S.||

    And after taxes it's about $74,000, right?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Egalitarianism for network packets.

  • Brett L||

    Remember, the non-Net Neutral world was so bad that the very instant Netflix started paying for premium treatment for their bits, everyone reported getting that treatment. Now, there's a good chance that Netflix passes that on to us in cost, but maybe, like Amazon, they'll just figure out a way to gouge it out of their bottom line. Either way is okay. We don't have fucking "package" neutrality, and yet shit that is important gets delivered quicker.

  • Paul.||

    Always remember, with Net Neutrality, crappy service is a human right!

  • Brett L||

    I sure do hope that all of my packets get treated like the post office treats letters.

  • Swiss Servator, Käse, Käse!||

    That is depressingly accurate, Epi...

  • PapayaSF||

    To be fair, the fears I have seen raised involve things like ISPs discriminating for or against certain websites. E.g., Comcast makes an arrangement with Google that makes Google fast and Bing slow. That sort of thing. But I'm not sure "net neutrality" is needed to solve that hypothetical issue.

  • Invisible Finger||

    The hypothetical issue is solved by "competition". But as Epi points out, the knee-jerk solution of so-called intelligent people is central planning.

  • Acosmist||

    So, an antitrust violation. It's too bad we have no laws against that already.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Our government says it's not an anti- trust violation because AT&T exists.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    The butthurt at slashdot is amazing. Not only are the Net Neutrality worshippers not going to get their pony, the FCC is going to give the service providers what they wanted. In short, the FCC has just shown that they are only interested in one thing, control.

    The cognitive dissonance is deafening as they try to sort out why that happened.

  • ||

    I think it just goes to show you how many people are 1) stupid as dirt, and 2) are so pathetic that they look to authority figures to give them what they want without any comprehension or consideration of what the authority's internal motivations might be.

    This issue has been an eye-opener into how so much of the geek/nerd/tech crowd is just as mindbendingly stupid as anyone else. The idiocy levels generated by this are shocking, because it really isn't complicated. If you give the government control of the internet, it will fuck it up.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Most of them don't remember the nightmare of dealing with the telephone companies under the old POTS regulatory system. It makes Comcast look downright friendly and efficient.

  • Invisible Finger||

    You would think they would have learned based on how much they complain about how shitty U.S. cell phone service is.

  • Brett L||

    Its the problem of the EFF writ large. They think that if they are good little soldiers, the government will let them have their internet the way they want it, because they are "good" people who hold the "right" opinions. The worst part is that some of them are competent (many of them are script kiddies who think being able to install an image and follow the script for granting permissions on their employer's network makes them a badass) and intelligent enough that if they would just go outside of mom's basement for a couple of hours, they'd get it.

  • Hyperion||

    This. Even when you don't think it's possible for something to be screwed up worse than it already is, the government is ready and willing to prove you wrong.

  • GamerFromJump||

    I wonder if South Korea has this problem.

    Oh wait, no, they actually build fast networks instead of trying to figure out how to extract the most money for the same amount of shit bandwidth.

  • Reverendcaptain||

    I don't understand why the Comcast story keeps getting wrapped up in the Net Neutrality story. It seems to me, somebody living outside the US right now, that they are separate issues. As I understand it, there is a serious problem with the domination of the ISP markets by players like Comcast and Time Warner but the solution to that should be competition.

    I happen to be in a developing country with a choice of probably at least 5 different ISPs and I am able to get faster service at a cheaper price with much better and faster service than I could in the US. The big difference is of course that I have so many options and the providers have to compete.

    Break those monopolies by allowing competition. And if my ISP starts trying to throttle my service, I'll go to another. Both problems solved by competition.

    Oh wait, I guess they are related.

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