Our View: The death of a neutral Web

DKS Editors

Proposed policy changes announced on Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission might signal a decisive funeral toll for net neutrality — the idea that Internet users should have equal access to any legal content on the Web and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing that content.

The new rules would allow companies like Google and Netflix to pay for an Internet “fast lane,” allowing them to send content to users more quickly than companies that don’t or can’t pay the premium.

This all comes just three months after a federal appeals court struck down FCC rules that banned these kinds of deals between service and content providers. The court ruled that because the Internet is not considered a utility under federal law, this sort of regulation is not allowed.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the new changes, saying the agency will evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether specific changes made by service providers are fair to consumers and that providers will be required to act “in a commercially reasonable manner.”

The problem here is that it’s unclear what would be considered reasonable and what wouldn’t.

These new rules very clearly favor wealthy companies who have the means to pay to use this Internet express lane. Startups, which have long been the bastion of innovation in the tech world, will be pushed aside and stifled. Had these rules been enacted 10 years ago, we probably never would have seen the rise of Twitter.

Costs to the consumer might also increase as companies pass on to consumers whatever premium they pay for faster service.

The loss of Net neutrality could also lead to further homogenization of an Internet that certainly serves a greater number of people better when, as consumer advocate Michael Weinberg put it, there is no “price of entry for innovation.”

Providers like Comcast, which is currently attempting to take over Time Warner Cable and which also owns NBCUniversal, might well be able to use the new rules to favor affiliated companies. This is anti-democratic, and it borders on monopolistic; either way, it’s bad news for Internet users everywhere.

While the rules are not yet set in stone — the FCC will circulate the proposals to the agency’s other commissioners before they will be put to a vote by the full commission by the end of the year — they seem to be very nearly so. The end of net neutrality, if and when it does happen, will forever change how the Internet works. And it won’t be for the better.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.