Yesterday the FCC released a draft order in their “Restoring Internet Freedom” proceeding that will be voted on at their December 14 open meeting. This is a seemingly dry yet very highly-publicized topic that you probably heard mentioned on yesterdays’ national news, and you will be hearing it for a while. So what exactly is the FCC proposing to restore, and what’s this “Net Neutrality” term that always crops up in news coverage?
The “Net Neutrality” debate originated way back in 2005 (12 years ago, seriously?!), when Congress became interested in statements made by the CEO of a company called SBC (which soon after became AT&T). If Viacom hadn’t blocked access to it across the web (anyone else see the irony here?), I would be inserting a clip to Stephen Colbert’s hilarious video showing how the AT&T monopoly was broken up, only to be pieced back together again as AT&T through mergers…but I digress.
The CEO’s statements had to do with SBC’s desire to charge big Internet companies (at the time, Google, Microsoft and Vonage), fees to get their services to his SBC customers. He also implied that if they weren’t willing to pay those fees, then he might just make it hard for them to get to his customers. While some of the players (or at least their names) have changed since 2005, it’s really the same debate today: Should Internet service providers be able to charge Internet content providers to prioritize who gets to customers fastest (Internet “fast lanes”), and should they be able to block the traffic of content providers who are not willing to pay.
The first “Open Internet Order” really addressing this issue at the Federal level was passed by the FCC in 2010, and was later overturned nearly in its entirety by court challenges led by Verizon. In 2015, under the last FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Commission successfully enacted a revised Open Internet proposal prohibiting broadband companies from blocking websites, slowing connection speeds and charging for faster delivery of content, and also subjecting those providers to utility-like “Title II” regulation. Unlike the 2010 order, these rules held up to court challenges, and are the rules that the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is seeking to overturn with the “Restoring Internet Freedom” order.
In summary, it’s complicated, and it’s hard to find a “neutral” (pun intended) source of information on the topic. One of the more entertaining summaries I have come across can be found here (caution, some of the videos contain foul language). It’s a hot-button issue for both sides of the political aisle, and tends to evoke very strong feelings one way or the other. Like more and more issues in today’s America, there appear to be few with a moderate opinion on the subject – everyone who talks about it is either in favor of a complete repeal of the 2015 Wheeler FCC Net Neutrality rules, or believes the Internet to be a fundamental human right that should be 100% free of charge and owned by the people.
So what does all this mean for companies like Mid-Rivers and for you as our members and customers? Right now, not much. We don’t have any plans to start blocking content should the draft order be approved in December. We will likely never be big enough, regardless of the law, to be able to charge companies like Amazon for priority delivery of their traffic, even if we wanted to. While it is always more efficient and affordable for us (and therefore our members) to operate with LESS regulation in general (fewer reporting requirements mean more resources can be directed toward serving customers), we understand that there must be checks and balances. Dealing with regulatory requirements is nothing new for us. As a recipient of Federal support (universal service funding), we’ve been subject to Title II regulation and more for decades, first on phone services and now broadband.
Despite the outcome on December 14, we will continue to be focused on building out broadband as fast as we can, and on providing quality services at affordable rates. Our greatest system of checks and balances and consumer protections is our Cooperative structure of democratic control by the members. We are not Comcast, nor do we want to be. We are here to serve you, not to profit by blocking you from accessing the lawful Internet content of your choice.
Mostly, Net Neutrality is a political football that gets kicked back the other direction every time the White House Administration changes from one side to the other. Wow, football and Net Neutrality in one post – two touchy subjects that are sure to make the rounds at Thanksgiving dinner tables across America this year!
The happiest of Thanksgivings to all our members. We are thankful for all of you, every day.