Why Net Neutrality Is A Debate Worth Watching

The debate over net neutrality in the U.S. has become, like so many other things, a partisan brawl. In December 2010, after a year of wrangling, the FCC set forth rules concerning net neutrality. Three high-level rules were proposed: transparency, no blocking, and no unreasonable discrimination.

Basically, “transparency” requires fixed and wireless network providers to disclose their network management practices, network performance, characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services. As for “no blocking,” fixed providers are forbidden from blocking lawful content as well as applications, services, and non-harmful devices and cannot charge providers of these services just for delivering traffic to and from the network. “No unreasonable discrimination” essentially means fixed broadband providers cannot discriminate against lawful network traffic.

The FCC itself was sharply divided on the issue (the rules passed by a vote of only 3 to 2). That led to nothing short of a firestorm. In April, the House, under Republican control, voted not just to overturn the net neutrality rules, but to essentially de-fund them by writing language that would ban the FCC from using any of its funds to implement net neutrality. Meanwhile, Democratic senators have now lined up to prevent the Senate, under slim Democratic control, from taking similar action.

In December, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who supported the net neutrality rules, said:

“On one end of the spectrum, there are those who say government should do nothing at all. On the other end of the spectrum are those who would adopt a set of detailed regulations. I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework — one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment.”

Commissioner Robert McDowell, who was opposed to the rules, had four concerns, according to PC magazine:

“Nothing is broken in the Internet access market that needs fixing; the FCC does not have the legal authority to issues these rules; rules are likely to cause irreparable harm; and existing law and Internet governance structures provide ample consumer protection in the event of market failure.”

Wireless providers Verizon Wireless and MetroPCS were so anxious about the rules that they attempted to sue the FCC even before the rules were implemented. The suits were thrown out, but Verizon said it would refile at the appropriate time.

The debate may be raging in the U.S., but in contrast, a net neutrality law was just adopted by the Netherlands with a broad majority. It basically prevents wireless providers operating in the Netherlands from blocking or charging for Internet services. According to the New York Times:

“Analysts said that the legal restrictions imposed in the Netherlands could shape Europe’s broader, evolving debate over network neutrality, pushing more countries on the Continent to limit operators from acting as self-appointed toll collectors of the mobile Internet.”

Whether or not the FCC’s version of net neutrality makes it through our fractured legislative system, the issue will not disappear any time soon. Online marketers should keep an eye on how the net neutrality debate evolves in this country to understand its impact on them.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

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