The War over the Internet

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made headlines when it declared that the Internet will be classified as a public utility. This decision came amidst a whirlwind of public concern and industry turmoil over the physical fabric of the Internet. At the center of the debate was the ugly combination of aging 1980s internet backbone, exponentially increasing bandwidth demand, and the mountain of money being reaped by the industry. This interplay is best summarized by the “Netflix question”, which begs: If Netflix is making impressive profits but requires better cable infrastructure to deliver the service, why doesn’t Netflix pay for the required upgrades? Especially since the cable companies have a competing service with Netflix and the legal gray area to throttle their service.

By declaring the Internet a public utility, the FCC has made two important statements. First, that the Internet is an ingredient essential to the success of our nation, and that everyone should have access to it, and; Second, that the responsibility for maintaining that access belongs with the owner of the infrastructure. As a utility, the Internet Service Providers are prohibited from any kind of price discrimination or other scheme which they could contrive as a way of recouping the costs of upgrades from individual parties. Since the ISP collects fees from everyone for access to the Internet, the maintenance of the infrastructure is the ISP’s responsibility.

Apparently, such hippie nonsense does not sit well with Congressional Republicans, which have already started the backlash against the agency itself. The Director of the FCC is accusing Republicans of “trying to cripple the agency.” There is already legislation on the floor to reverse the FCC decision, but this goes further to prevent the FCC from effectively making decisions in the future.

Neither do the ISP cartels like the decision either, and several of the big players (such as the CTIA and AT&T) have already filed perfunctory petitions with the FCC for a stay of the decision. These will then be filed in a courthouse once the FCC inevitably denies them. Such a concerted effort between a political party and an industry would most likely rise to the U.S. Supreme Court, especially considering how the U.S. Supreme Court has been in the headlines for the past few years over hot-button partisan issues (a la Healthcare and currently Gay Marriage).