The FCC voted unanimously yesterday to move forward with the debate in an effort to formalize net neutrality guidelines. Senator John McCain followed up by introducing a bill that would prohibit the FCC from governing communications.
In the wake of FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's initial announcement of his intent to pursue formal net neutrality rules, a group of GOP lawmakers already initiated a similar attempt. However, that amendment was retracted almost as quickly as it was filed.
McCain's bill, the Internet Freedom Act, seeks to do the opposite of what its name implies by ensuring that broadband and wireless providers can discriminate and throttle certain traffic while giving preferential treatment to other traffic. Basically, those in power or those who pay more will have better access. Apparently we have different definitions of ‘freedom'.
According to the text of the McCain bill, the FCC "shall not propose, promulgate, or issue any regulations regarding the Internet or IP-enabled services." Isn't that what the FCC does? Isn't that sort of like introducing a bill to prohibit the Treasury from printing money, or a bill to prohibit the IRS from collecting taxes?
Oddly, the bill also contains text stating that any regulations in effect on the day before the Internet Freedom Act is officially enacted are grandfathered in and exempt from the provisions of the Internet Freedom Act. The implication seems to be that if the FCC can formalize net neutrality rules before McCain can get the Internet Freedom Act signed into law, the net neutrality rules would still apply.
Net neutrality opponents claim that the free market can police itself and that any net neutrality restrictions will stifle innovation and competition. However, Comcast tried to throttle peer-to-peer networking traffic and only changed policy after the threat of FCC net neutrality rules. AT&T sought to block customers from using VoIP services from its wireless network, but changed policy out of fear of the net neutrality rules. The trend seems to be that these providers only do the ‘right thing' when the net neutrality gun is pointing at their head.
What the FCC voted on yesterday is simply to start the debate. Its an open discussion, so what are net neutrality opponents afraid of? They have 120 days to gather information and collect data and present their case. If there are valid issues that need to be resolved, then go ahead and bring them to the table. Don't initiate legislation that seeks to pretend the table doesn't exist.
During the Presidential election campaign last year the differences between the two candidates was stark. While Obama was attached surgically to his CrackBerry and his staff leveraged social media from their Macbooks, McCain admitted having little or no knowledge or interest in modern technologies like email or the Internet.
It seems suspicious that the Internet is suddenly a major concern for him. Maybe he just missed seeing his name in the paper.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.