Is An Open Internet Dead?

In a crippling blow to net neutrality lobbyists, the Federal Communications Commission, an independent regulator of the United States Government, have revealed plans to allow internet providers to strike deals with companies for preferential treatment in search engine placement and loading times.

This follows a previous ruling striking down the possibility of adopting the widely favored Open Internet Order in February. What an “open or neutral internet” describes is an internet where websites are not discriminated against over partner companies or due to their political bias, to strike down the possibility for internet providers (Comcast etc) to demand payment for applications to access their customers and the ability for all of these to not be limited to wired or wireless networks.

After details of the rules were leaked on Wednesday, advocates were enraged; some suggesting that the new rules were detrimental to the traditionally free and open ethos of the internet.

A FCC spokesperson said that Internet service providers would be required “ to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers” but they would be able to strike preferential deals with companies such as Netflix or Skype to help provide a faster or smoother service. The provider would also have to do so in a “commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis”. 

This suggests that such deals would theoretically place an additional price on top of the original subscription fees for service providers such as Netflix, some activists fear. It is also feared that Internet startups would not be able to afford such deals and thus drive them further away from e-commerce as a viable option, potentially migrating innovation from the internet during one of the most fruitful periods of technological development in history. 

The new proposal would set a baseline which would deter internet providers from participating in “commercially unreasonable practices” but to what  extent is “unreasonable” is unclear.

This puts a large dent into  Barrack Obama’s original mandates of his presidency. During Obama’s first election campaign, he swore to set laws in favor of net neutrality if elected president (see here).

This is still ongoing.

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