Democratic Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps announced today that he will not block the net neutrality measure that the FCC will vote on tomorrow, writes All Things D.
With the two Republican commissioners voting no, Copps was the potential swing vote on the proposal supported by Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Net neutrality is the principle that prevents Internet providers from charging tiered rates for different sites and services. There are many parts of the country where customers only have one or two choices of Internet provider, and the lack of competition could lead providers to prioritize certain types of traffic over others.
Right now, the Internet is a series of “dumb tubes,” so that bits are delivered at the same speed with the same priority no matter where they’re coming from.
In the worst-case scenario for net neutrality advocates, providers would switch to using “smart tubes” and charging different prices depending on what sites users are trying to access. Some traffic could end up getting blocked or taxed based on agreements a provider might make with corporations that compete with services like Skype and Netflix. That could temper innovation (what if an Internet provider had decided to block traffic to the nascent Facebook?) and prevent customers from accessing sites they want.
Net neutrality opponents say certain kinds of data costs more to deliver than others, and that introducing regulation will kill investment in broadband infrastructure because it’s too expensive.
“The item we will vote on tomorrow is not the one I would have crafted,” Copps said in a statement.
“But I believe we have been able to make the current iteration better than what was originally circulated. If vigilantly and vigorously implemented by the Commission—and if upheld by the courts—it could represent an important milestone in the ongoing struggle to safeguard the awesome opportunity-creating power of the open Internet. While I cannot vote wholeheartedly to approve the item, I will not block it by voting against it.”
The proposal imposes rules to preserve an open Internet but stopped short of declaring the Internet to be a public utility that the FCC could regulate in the way it regulates the telecommunications industry. It’s not the nightmare net neutrality advocates fear, but it’s likely to leave no one happy (including Senator Al Franken, who spoke out for stricter net neutrality rules on Saturday).
ajeffries [at] observer.com | @adrjeffries