Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler just dropped some serious net neutrality knowledge on the US. In short: he will be proposing that the internet be reclassified under an updated Title II, allowing the government agency to regulate against any unfair priority access to the internet. This is a good sign, another battle won for the free and open web. But this is perhaps the most important snippet from the statement Wheeler published today on Wired:
Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone's permission.
In other words, for the first time Wheeler's plan would cover wired and wireless internet equally. This would be the bright-line, unimpeachable rule that says, "no, you can't throttle speeds for specific apps or services, so stop it."
Net neutrality would provide protection for services that may be unjustly discriminated against on wireless networks. For example in 2012, AT&T wouldn't let people use Facetime on the iPhone 5 unless tethered to a Wi-Fi network. More recently, less insidious examples include T-Mobile's Music Freedom plan that gives free data preference to some streaming services and not others.
It only makes sense for the Wheeler to also wrap in mobile internet into the FCC's ambitious reimagining of America's information highway. The FCC took a similar stance before, that wireless and wired internet needed similar protections, but some ISPs argued that the wireless network was still developing and needed lighter standards to grow, that any regulation would harm further investments. (A worry ISPs at least pretend to have today.)
But in 2014, that's no longer the case. Mobile app usage passed PCs for the first time ever. To include one and not the other would leave a giant annoying "to be continued" on the FCC's new plan that would required an avoidable net neutrality sequel in the future. Wheeler also proposes in the Wired piece that he'll be "tailoring [Title II] for the 21st century" to give ISPs incentives to keep building and investing in their networks.
This is by no means the end of the discussion. AT&T and Verizon are already lining up their lawyers for what I'm sure will be an epic court room battle for the ages. But for the first time in a long time, this feels like a step in the right direction. [Wired]