Written by Natalie MootzNatalie has been writing for the web since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or at least since dinosaurs achieved blogging technology. She's also written for About.com and Joystiq.
To be or not to be... a public utility? That is the question before FCC commissioners as they prepare for a February vote on whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be regulated like water, power, and phone companies to ensure that everyone has the same access to online content. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler indicated that he thinks 'tis nobler in the mind to impose tougher regulations on ISPs. He proposes regulations that are "just and reasonable," and intends to release his full proposal on February 5th, to be voted on by the entire commission on February 26th.
Wheeler's move was predicated by other politicians taking arms against the sea of consumer troubles. New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand asked the FCC "to ensure that more federal funds are available for broadband deployment to rural areas" after a constituent complained of a $20,000 broadband installation charge. Consumers may be suffering the slings and arrows, but the ISPs are raking in outrageous fortunes in the process. Wheelers proposal echoes President Barack Obama's preference for ISPs being treated like telephone companies to preserve a "free and open" Internet.
For their part, ISPs believe they would suffer a thousand shocks if the FCC decides to regulate them as a public utility. They argue that regulation would kill jobs and discourage investment in upgrades. Critics of the current system say that without regulation, large ISPs would create a tiered service, allowing richer companies and consumers to pay more for faster data lanes.
And here's the rub: last year a federal appeals court threw out rules that were meant to preserve net neutrality, a ruling which Wheeler originally supported at that time. However, with his switch to recommending the undiscovered country of utility regulation, Wheeler said, "You want to make sure that innovators and consumers have open access to the networks."
For Wheeler's proposal to pass the 5-member FCC panel, he'll need to sway at least two other commissioners to his point of view. It may be a difficult fight against those who would rather bear the ills of the current system than fly to others that we know not of.
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