Net Neutrality: End of the Long First Act

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Why All the Hype Over Net Neutrality?

Learn what net neutrality is all about and why it's so important.

It's possible to read the details of the passage of net neutrality at any number of websites and print publications. It's a major event, and keeps in step with the sudden, end-of-year flurry of activity in Washington, D.C. that has seen gay people finally given the right to serve their nation openly, better protection on food safety, a big tax bill and, likely, passage of a new arms control treaty.


For net neutrality, the hard part is next. The reality is that the passage of a bill by Congress or a decision by the FCC generates the headlines. These events should. But what follows is at least as important and will have as much to say about what actually happens as the passage or vote itself.


Consider health care reform. After tortuous deliberations and endless debate, the HCR passed Congress and was signed into law last summer. At this point, however, it is far from clear how and in what form the law will take effect. Its opponents have not gone away. There are lawsuits contesting its constitutionality and threats to not fund the new law. And, even if the law takes effect, there are thousands of appointments, hirings, rules interpretations and other work that will control how the new laws actually work.


The situation is just as speculative-or even more so-for net neutrality. First, there are the tricky little details that the FCC may not even have the power to control broadband. Then, there is the interpretation of the rather vague language the FCC approved today. Finally, there is the meta-struggle between Republican and Democratic sides that is a controlling factor in the implementation of a new regulatory regime-particularly one that comes into being when control of government is divided.


This is not to say that what the five FCC commissioners did today isn't important. It is. But it only sets the widest parameters around the infighting, posturing, give-and-take and splitting babies down the middle that will ensue, much of which behind the scenes. Finally, what happened today in D.C. doesn't fully address wireless, which, of course, is where much of the real action is today.


Perhaps the most tired cliche in the English language is that the devil is in the details. Like all good cliches, it is at once superficial and deeply meaningful. The passage of net neutrality is a step towards the control of broadband networks, but precisely who that control will favor is as fuzzy and unsettled today as it was yesterday.

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