Friday, May 23, 2014

The Political Reason Behind the FCC's Decision to Reverse Course on Net Neutrality

In 2005, under pressure from cable companies and entrenched phone monopolies the FCC ruled that next generation Internet services like fiber optic connections were "information services" and therefor not open to regulation by the Federal Communications Commission.  The motivating factor behind the ruling was to avoid forcing cable and phone companies from having to provide wholesale access to their infrastructure, as was required by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The result of the decision was the extinction of the independent Internet Service Provider.  For most Americans their choices for accessing the Internet dropped from more than 7,000 to one or two, their local cable or phone monopoly.

With their virtual stranglehold on the last mile in place, AT&T began a propaganda campaign alleging Internet companies like Netflix and Google were stealing from them.  They argued these companies were not paying them to access their customers and that they should be forced to pay some kind of fee.  (I've explained numerous times in the past why the argument made by AT&T is pure fiction.)

Immediately Internet entrepreneurs became alarmed.  They recognized that AT&T's plan to create a "fast lane," where companies with deep pockets could pay a fee to get priority access to customers, would force prices to consumers to rise and stifle competition and innovation.  They responded with their own plan, Net Neutrality, which would prevent Internet providers like AT&T from effectively throttle traffic from competitors to their own TV and other services and force them to treat all traffic equally.

After allegations and admissions from cable companies like Comcast, who began selling Microsoft preferential traffic priority, the FCC  issued a cease and desist order by the FCC for blocking BitTorrent traffic.  In 2010, a federal court sided with Comcast, saying the FCC lacked the authority to regulate the Internet.

The FCC, responded later that year by enacting tough Net Neutrality rules.  They were immediately sued by Verizon, the phone monopoly that controls the Eastern half of the United States.  Again, the courts ruled against the FCC citing the FCC's own decision classifying next generation communications infrastructure as "Information service."

So, why now, after multiple attempts, do a complete 180 on Net Neutrality?  Has the problem gone away?  What has changed?

The answer boils down to what most decisions come down to... power.  Two federal court rulings and the FCC's own past decisions had taken away the federal government's ability to regulate the Internet.

Some members of congress and the current administration have been pressuring the FCC and federal other bureaucracies to start regulating speech on the Internet because conservative sources like the Drudge Report and other blogs are presenting a challenge to their ability to control the message on various scandals and issues.

These tactics should come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention, as Judicial Watch has uncovered numerous emails and documents revealing Democrats like Carl Levin and Elijah Cummings were pressuring the IRS to illegally scrutinize Tea Party groups in order to affect the 2012 election.

By reversing course, the FCC is able to issue a ruling regulating the Internet that cable and phone monopolies will not challenge in court.  The result of which sets a precedence that recognizes the FCC's authority to regulate the Internet and, in turn, their ability to regulate the Drudge Report and other conservative web sites.

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