America declared neutral, but the issue is not going away
via Flickr © toridawnrector (CC BY-SA 2.0)
As widely predicted the FCC passed the net neutrality rules on a three (Democrats) to two (Republicans) basis, a count which signalled the utter politicisation of the net neutrality issue and the fact that it is now more or less baked into the partisan political landscape in the US. What was initially an argument about the right (or not) of ISPs to erect toll-gates on the Internet (remember, “I can’t let them use my pipes for free”?) has moved on to being one about government regulation and the right of big corporations to do what they please. To tie net neutrality in with ‘Obamacare’ - the president’s reform of the US medical system - is more than a rhetorical flourish… it signals that Republicans have levered little old innocent net neutrality (which after all should be simple set rules to stop ISP’s discriminating over access) onto their list of pet hates where it will likely stay.
That means that while there may well be no threat to the new rules in the short term, in the longer term a Republican president and FCC may well try to get the rules, if not repealed, then certainly relaxed in all the right places.
The response to yesterday’s vote says it all. While some captains of telecoms industry had already signalled their apparent indifference to the rules (who wants to be stranded on the losing side?) there is a large body of soured opinion that’s making itself heard and promising to do everything its power to get the rules overturned.
AT&T has indicated that a federal lawsuit is almost certainly in the offing. The loud and tub-thumping wing of the Republicans in Congress are also making their feelings known with 20 of them vowing that the new net neutrality rules mean the US will be less competitive and will threaten the “future viability of the Internet.”
In many cases it’s the new mantra of “we didn’t mind net neutrality it’s the over-harsh regulation we don’t want” perhaps forgetting that the only reason the FCC reluctantly invoked Title II was because a court said that it had to in the wake of a suit from Verizon - otherwise, said the court, no net neutrality rule would stick.