Net neutrality fail shows its time to fire FCC boss

Obama makes net neutrality a national priority; FCC chair promises to think about it.

obama appoints tom wheeler fcc chair may 1 2014 whitehouse gov
Credit: Official White House photo

It is clear from the very first sentence of Tom Wheeler's reply to President Obama's call for net neutrality regulations that the chairman of the FCC was not just saying 'no' to the President. He was telling the White House to run on home while the FCC boss and his telecom buddies worked out on their own what to do about the Internet.

Wheeler was polite(ish), but didn't do much to conceal his dismissal of what turned out to be a major statement from the White House supporting net neutrality and urging the FCC to regulate the Internet businesses of phone and cable companies in the same way it regulates their telephone and cable services.

When Tom Wheeler wrote in his reply to the President that the FCC had more work to do and needed more time to examine all the issues, however, he wasn't listing the obstacles his agency was planning to overcome in pursuit of a goal set by the President. He was predicting an endless cycle of analysis and discussion that would help delay the creation or enforcement of any new regulations indefinitely – preferably until after the next Presidential election two years from now.

That's too long to wait for the resolution of 10 years worth of dithering over an issue that looks complicated only through the layers of fog and buschwa produced by carriers trying to avoid the topic.

Net neutrality is the belief that companies that sell Internet access should provide the Internet service they promise rather than threatening to throttle or block that service if a customer decides to buy a completely different service from a different company.

That's it. Very simple. All the rest is smoke screens, rationalizations and spin designed to justify the carriers' effort to extort a second payment for the same service by demanding competitors pay the carrier every time a customer decides not to buy one of its services.

Nearly twice as many Americans support net neutrality as oppose it, but 59 percent said they don't know enough about net neutrality to make a decision one way or the other, according to Nov. 10 online Google survey of 3,300 Americans.

It is only the rhetoric about net neutrality the majority don't understand, not the issue itself. Everyone understands what's happening when Netflix runs so slowly it's unwatchable and the only choices available for Internet service are Too Slow, Too Expensive and Not Available in Your Area.

Even the evidence carriers present to show their services will collapse if they're not allowed to extort money from everyone involved don't hold water.

U.S. broadband services already stink on ice, largely due to the failure of the FCC and other agencies to hold them to their obligations and take them to task for their failures, according to according to a report from U.S. think tank The New America Foundation.

ISPs are doing so bad a job of providing broadband that 32 cities across the U.S. are so disgusted with the performance of ISPs that they have decided to build their own Internet services networks, which is so far beyond desperate it's not even worth pointing out.

Cities are not taking that enormous step out of their comfort zones because they don't understand the problems carriers face. They do understand the problem and they know carriers are mercenary enough to sue the federal government – as they are doing in Tennessee and North Carolina – to prevent even desperate measures that might create competition, but still won't invest to upgrade their own service.

It's because we do understand net neutrality and all the things carriers are doing to block it that millions wrote to complain about the FCC's proposed rules and tens of thousands protested online and in person, and staged a slowdown on the Internet itself in September.

Net neutrality is important to the American people as individuals, to the companies we work with and buy from, to the economy we depend on, to the technological progress of the country as a whole.

If the FCC isn't up to its obligation to define and enforce regulations protecting so obvious a right, it should be abolished and replaced with something more effective – the night cleaning crew at a Dairy Queen, maybe, or a tiny car filled with clowns.

Americans understand net neutrality and we understand when we're being blown off, just as Tom Wheeler blew off the President by promising to put his big policy statement in a box rather than acknowledge the FCC's obligation to protect the American people rather than the American telecom industry.

After 10 years of dancing around the issue and pretending not to see an answer it keeps tripping over, it's time for the FCC to act. If it doesn't, it is time for Congress and the President to get rid of either the agency or its chairman and replace them with something that actually works.

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