I have been reading the various analyses of the FCC's 'third way' to implement network neutrality with some mystification. Following the Comcast decision, the agency obviously had to make a choice. While the last mile providers pushed pretty hard to get them to drop the whole thing, I don't think that was ever realistically going to happen even though there were rumors to that effect. But reclassification of broadband under Title II would have been overkill with all sorts of side effects. Their 'third way' makes strategic sense, but it isn't really a third way but simply the second way with lots of promises attached.
In layman's terms, they're going to reclassify broadband such that they can regulate it, but they're going to promise not to actually use it for anything other than network neutrality. They will explicitly limit it to broadband transmission, kindly leaving the rest of the internet otherwise unregulated. And we of course can just trust them to not change the rules incrementally again when the next big regulatory need/opportunity comes down the line. Can't we? (That was rhetorical, Dave!)
The ISPs are hopping mad, and will certainly test the idea in court. That's understandable, as this path would allow the FCC to enforce network neutrality in the last mile, while precluding it from interfering with application providers like Google and others. This flatly contradicts the equivalence last mile providers have been arguing for.
But that argument has always been a tad silly to me. The regulatory case for the last mile exists because of the natural infrastructure monopoly/duopoly, where the barrier to entry for new national last mile infrastructure is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Google, Netflix and their friends on the other hand could be replaced in a couple years by a startup if they lose their way and piss off consumers enough. Surely the argument is either regulation of the last mile or no regulation of the last mile, and not regulation of the entire internet or none of it.
So where do we go from here? Back to the status quo for now, and to court of course. Whatever the outcome, however, it is clear that some form of network neutrality has popular support and therefore challenges to it will be more theoretical than actual.
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