The FCC's Net Neutrality Proposal Is About Giving the FCC More Power


Terminator 2, Carolco Pictures

The key thing to understand about the Federal Communications Commission's new net neutrality proposal is that it's not strictly about net neutrality or fast lanes or any of the other regulatory buzzwords you hear. Instead, it's primarily about giving the FCC more power and more authority to regulate what sorts of business practices are acceptable for broadband Internet providers.

The FCC, of course, is framing the rules as a kind of light-touch approach that will give the agency discretion to intervene only when really necessary, but what it really comes down to is that the agency wants to be the gatekeeper in terms of Internet provider innovation, and doesn't want strict rules to constrain its authority.  

This National Journal piece makes the point pretty well:

The Federal Communications Commission is moving ahead with a net-neutrality proposal, but no one knows exactly what business practices it would ban. And for the FCC, that's all part of the strategy.

The commission wants a vague standard to allow Internet companies to experiment with new business models, while giving the agency authority to step in when it sees abuses.

A senior FCC official argued that "putting rigid rules in place" would not let the Internet "evolve in a natural way." 

But the official added that "the government has to be in a position to oversee the Internet and intervene if it needs to."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly extolled the virtues of enforcing net-neutrality rules on a "case-by-case basis."

Under his proposal, Internet service providers would be required to handle traffic in a "commercially reasonable" way. The commission has done little to explain what "commercially reasonable" means.

Why would the FCC go out of its way to provide more detail about what "commercially reasonable" means? It means whatever the FCC decides it means someday down the road when the agency feels like doing something, whatever that something may be. The agency of course likes to emphasize that these sorts of vague guidelines give the agency flexibility to avoid doing bad things, but that's really just another way of saying that the FCC doesn't know what the rules should be—it just knows that it should be in charge. 

A pretty good rule of thumb when it comes to federal authorities is that they tend to leave, or create, as much wiggle room for themselves as possible in any given circumstance. It's why you'll rarely see the administration draw up a legal memo saying that the president does not have the power to do something, and why agencies tend to prefer vague rules that give them a lot of interpretive leeway. They want to do what they want to do, and they don't want to create guidelines or precedents or rules that might get in the way. 

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  1. Under his proposal, Internet service providers would be required to handle traffic in a “commercially reasonable” way.

    So…. like they’re doing right now?

  2. Well, the FCC clearly has the constitutional authority to make binding laws about whatever it wants, so I don’t know what the big deal is.

    Seriously, I don’t know why more people aren’t up in arms about this kind of stuff.

    1. Some people are about this particular thing… especially the reddit community. The FCC is about to bone all of us.

  3. NN is turning into one of those issues where more people are sensible about it, but the minority is absolutely obsessed with making it happen, in combination with the FCC’s desire for more power, and they just will not let it go. They’re going to just keep coming back, again and again and again, until the rest of us get fatigued and they “win” some part of it. I can smell it. Those fucking mongoloid idiots just have to fuck Comcast and get their speedy torrents. No matter what it does to the internet as a whole after the scumfuck government gets its disgusting claws into it.

    1. I’m sure with the government’s fine management, we’ll all have access to 5kbps lines real soon now.

    2. It’s not Comcast that gets fucked, they’ll get their money regardless. It’s everybody who uses the internet but doesn’t torrent 5 movies a day or watch 8 hours of Netflix. People like grandma who only gets on to check her grandkids Facebook. We’re the ones who are subsidizing these morons, which is exactly why they hate it so much…they’re getting a grand deal!

      1. I’m just going to throw this out there, but if Comcast is unwilling to charge customers based on usage (they actually cap usage and throttle after a point) the problem is Comcast. To make a comparison, if your mechanic does a shitty job on your car to work on other cars, you might be fucked, but your mechanic is the problem – not the other consumers.

      2. Or to put it another way, I pay for the fastest non-commercial grade internet available in the area. In the greater metro area, that’s Comcast. Sure I make some noise to the local government, but I’m paying for X, and fuck them if they take it upon themselves to double dip and charge the endpoints that I am communicating with for their privilege of talking back to me for the level of service I am already paying for.

  4. Why aren’t we talking about local utility franchise agreements and how much I hate Comcast?!?!?!?1


    1. Agreed, Time Warner, along with Comcast, can eat a bag of dicks.

      1. I think he’s sarcasticly making fun of me.

      2. I’m not so sure that’s going to go through. They didn’t let AT&T buy T-Mobile.

  5. In a vacuum, net neutrality is a decent enough idea, especially given the lack of choice we have in internet service providers (thanks to government-granted monopolies).

    But the FCC doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And giving them more power is such a terrible idea I’m ashamed that so many people support it.

    1. My proposal would be to drop net neutrality, but ban telecommunications companies with local utility franchise agreements from also being content providers.

      It would eliminate the conflict of interest, and let each company choose which side of the fence they want to be on.

      1. That…that makes a lot of sense. I’m stealing it as my position.

    2. Andrew S.|5.22.14 @ 4:30PM|#
      “In a vacuum, net neutrality is a decent enough idea,”…

      Any time a 3rd party sticks its nose in a free transaction between adults, the two interested parties lose.

  6. It seems like the coming disaster that is Net Neutrality might at least serve as an educational experience. I mean, no one is old enough to remember free-market banking, or health care — they’ve always been a shit-burger and always will be. But there’s enough people alive who will remember, and enough written about, what a truly open and free Internet was like, that when it comes time to swallow the shit-burger that Net Neutrality has made the Internet into, that people might realize exactly what wrong…

    Of course, what will really happen, is the dynamic Internet will just shrug off Net Neutrality and keep doing its thing, and then these assholes get to declare ‘See? We fixed the Internet’. Thanks.

    1. But there’s enough people alive who will remember, and enough written about, what a truly open and free Internet was like, that when it comes time to swallow the shit-burger that Net Neutrality has made the Internet into, that people might realize exactly what wrong…

      Your naivete is charming.

  7. I thought the FCC was established to regulate the air waves. They’ve got no business regulating what people can send over wires.

    1. It’s the government; unfortunately they always seem to find a way.


  8. Everything from this administration is about expanding government control.
    The FCC is assuming statutory authority that neither the Congress nor the
    courts have granted to it. The ruse about net neutrality is a disgrace. The
    internet is free now and the American people must resist all efforts for the
    government to interfere.

  9. Let me save Reason some time.

    “The ____’s proposal is about giving the ______ more power.”

    Fill in the blank with the appropriate government acronym.

    “doesn’t want strict rules to constrain its authority”

    Our rulers already have *arbitrary* power to do as they please, now they want it codified into law. Why should we fight? It’s not like it changes anything.

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