How Tom Wheeler's FCC plan will wreck your Internet

Don't be fooled: The FCC chairman's plan is to profit big ISPs at the expense of everyone else

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Net neutrality is very hard to kill in the U.S. It has been a fundamental principle of the Internet since its inception and is backed by just about every major person and company involved in creating and building the Internet. No one has ever been able to figure out how to steal net neutrality from the public.

Until now.

Wheeler's indecent proposal

The FCC voted Thursday on Wheeler's new rules for net neutrality. They approved the motion to allow the rules to go forward and to seek public comment on the question of making ISPs "common carriers."

Wheeler said his proposal doesn't allow for "paid prioritization" -- favored access for the companies that pay ISPs for faster and more reliable data connections -- but in fact it does, and that's one point left open for public comment. Under the proposal, ISPs are free to sell fast access for certain types of content, as long as they can show that it does no harm.

He claimed net neutrality is preserved, and that consumers won't be harmed because he said the FCC won't allow ISPs to slow down users' connections beyond what they pay for.

He also couched his proposal in warm and fuzzy language, such as the following: "I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised," Wheeler said. "The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable."

Those are the right things to say because that's exactly what the public wants. But the whole proposal is in fact the opposite of that. It compromises the open Internet and grants gatekeepers status to ISPs which get to choose winners and losers on the Internet.

The "fast lane" prioritization that Wheeler wants to allow for the first time, clearly favors large companies over small ones, rich organizations over poor ones and existing companies over startups.

The truth is that "fast lane" prioritization directly benefits only high-bandwidth data sources like Netflix, YouTube and their ilk. That's today. In the future, we don't know what high-bandwidth, real-time applications might emerge. Maybe games will gobble up increasing bandwidth. We could see shared virtual reality social spaces, of the kind Mark Zuckerberg envisions with his Oculus VR acquisition. The Internet's future applications haven't been invented yet.

In the future Wheeler is proposing, small startups in these emerging spaces will be locked out, unable to pay for prioritization while the existing giants will buy high performance.

The fact that Wheeler opened the issue for public comment, including and specifically the question over labeling ISPs as "common carriers," sounds like reasonable compromising, when in fact it's the opposite.

The four-month comment period assures that the actual decision and implementation will happen just after the mid-term elections, when most initiatives opposed by the public are scheduled.

And the question of "common carrier" status is a poison pill, a red herring, a diversionary tactic. It's purpose is to give the political right something to fight and reject.

Wheeler's proposal is brilliant because it takes the U.S. as far away from net neutrality as possible by presenting the killing of net neutrality and making it sound like the opposite.

Wheeler's proposal sounds fair, balanced and transparently arrived at. In reality, it's the Mother of All Gifts to ISPs, accompanied by smoke and mirrors and crafted by Wheeler himself in secret.

The most subtle aspect of Wheeler's proposal is that he moves the U.S. from a country where Internet access is equal by default, to one in which it's unequal by default. It provides the FCC with the future discretion of calibrating how much abuse the agency allows simply by how it chooses to enforce or not enforce the new rules. It moves Internet access from a solid footing to a slippery slope.

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