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The FCC Is About to Axe-Murder Net Neutrality -- What You Should Know

This is a potentially tragic turning point in American politics and policy.

In January, a federal appeals court  rejected regulations designed to assure some measure of fairness in the way America's internet service providers (ISPs) handle information traveling through their networks. The problem, according to the court, was not so much that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)couldn't insist on what is called "network neutrality" – the idea that customers, rather than ISPs, should decide priorities for information they get online. No, the issue was that the FCC had tried to impose broadband rules under the wrong regulatory framework. And the court all but invited the FCC to fix its own mistake and rewrite its own updated rules.

The FCC's new chairman, the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler, said he would comply, rather than appeal. "Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency,"  he said in a February statement.

Now, based on a  slew of frightening news reports Wednesday night and a  "clarification"from the FCC Thursday, we know how the agency – or at least the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler – proposes to respond: it won't exercise its supreme regulatory authority in the manner the court suggested.

No, not at all.

Rather, the FCC will say – loud and proud – that it is fixing the open-web problem while actually letting it get worse, by providing a so-called "fast lane" for carriers to hike fees on sites trying to reach customers like you and me. Which, inevitably, would mean you and me start paying more to use those sites – if we aren't already.

This is a potentially tragic turning point in American politics and policy. We are on the verge of turning over the internet – the most important communications system ever invented– to telecoms that grew huge through the government granting them monopoly status. Barring a genuine shift in policy or a court stepping in to ensure fair treatment of captive customers – or better yet, genuine competition – companies like Verizon and Comcast will have staggering power to decide what bits of information reach your devices and mine, in what order and at what speed. That is, assuming we're permitted to get that information at all.

Do we want an open internet? Do we want digital innovation and free speech to thrive? If we continue down the regulatory road pursued by the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler, all of those good things will be in serious jeopardy.

Now, in the interest of fairness, it's important to quote the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler's  reaction to the news leaks, which obviously came from his office. After  a brief statement last night, today comes  a blog post called "Setting the Record Straight on the FCC’s Open Internet Rules", in which the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler says his new proposal "would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted."

The proposed rules, according to the blog post, would require:

1. That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network;

2. That no legal content may be blocked; and

3. That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.

It's unclear why the FCC has the right even to enforce this under the current non-rules, but never mind that. More to the point is what the rules would allow: the oligopoly ISPs, by all reports, would have the right to cut special deals with web companies to give them that fast lane.

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