Despite months of prodding phone, cable and Internet companies to come to some kind of consensus over the issue of net neutrality, and in the face of a proposal volunteered by Google and Verizon that would have ended the Internet as we know it, the Federal Communications Commission delayed any decision on how to handle Internet regulation for now. So in lieu of any action by the regulator, Chairman Julius Genachowski instead called for more public comments in hopes that public interests and the private sector can come together over to forge the rules together.
The move by Genachowski also avoids making any decisions before mid-term elections and thereby alienating parts of the democratic base or the influential telecommunications industry. According to some reports, industry analysts believe it is unlikely that the FCC would adopt even draft proposals until after October as Genachowski treads lightly before the elections.
The FCC had originally proposed a set of open Internet rules last year but faced stiff opposition from the industry and Republicans. And as come to represent the Democrats and the Obama administration in general, they appear afraid to stand up to the GOP’s message that advocating for a free and open Internet is akin to an attempt by the administration to “take over” the Internet.
But not all Democrats are cowering in fear of the GOP messaging machine. Minnesota Senator Al Franken has shot back, calling net neutrality the First Amendment issue of our time. Franken has come out in opposition to any efforts that would allow Internet providers to discriminate upload/download speeds based on content or to created tiered pricing systems similar to how cable is currently priced.
The Tea Party has also chimed in, this time coming down on the side of corporate power over personal freedom.
What’s unfolded is that net neutrality has come to symbolize the central argument facing this country today–that is, just what should the role of government and the private sector be? Franken and proponents of net neutrality argue that government can be an agent of good, especially when it protects against corporate overreach and greed which always comes at the expense of consumers. Net neutrality opponents, on the other hand, believe that corporations have constitutional rights as well and think any government action to regulate the private sector is a bad thing.
Genachowski’s actions certainly doesn’t resolve the debate, and it may by the Chairman and the administration a bit of time to deal with the November elections. But ultimately this is a fight that needs to be fought. Since net neutrality proponents have been granted a bit of time in this decision, let’s make sure our voices are heard. Contact the administration and your representatives and let them know that you support a free and open internet and expect them to do so as well.
photo courtesy of Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr