The executive orders put into place in 2012 have not been enough for President Obama. In November, he asked the FCC to regulate the internet the way a public utility is regulated. This has multiple potential consequences. Price is a large concern regarding changes in how the internet is managed. The FCC is allowed to charge public utilities various fees. If ISPs become public utilities, the FCC will be free to charge what it wants. Interestingly, the same month that Obama proposed granting the FCC authority over the internet, the FCC made a proposal of its own: increase its fees again.
It is also important to remember that your home network and your computer are directly connected to the internet. Yes; we are the “private roads and driveways” of the internet, but we do not access the internet; our computer becomes a part of it, much in the same way that a solar power system can become part of the energy grid. Of course, there are regulations in place regarding connections of systems to the power grid, because electricity is a public utility. Consider the impact of the new level of control governments would have if the internet were deemed a public utility. They would have the authority to set as many new rules as they want regarding your home network and home computer, all without congressional approval.
As of today, the FCC has voted to regulate the internet as a public utility. Unfortunately we have not yet heard the exact list of rules that will be implemented as a result. Hopefully the damage will be slow enough to counter.
One final matter is a discussion of trust. Consider the nature of government, especially the US government. The NSA has run illegal wiretapping operations for years. Its police force are brutal. It’s military is out of control. It picks and chooses winners and losers, both in business and in governments, based on how well connected they are. This is the institution which is deciding what “neutral” means.
We also have a track record of executive branch institutions producing their own law, if not outright ignoring existing law. The SEC is a good example of this. I wonder how many people are aware that there is no congressional act, signed into law, which prohibits insider trading. Instead, the SEC, along with the Supreme Court, have unconstitutionally produced their own law. The SEC has also ignored existing law, in the case of equity crowd funding. Even though JOBS act was signed into law back in 2012, the SEC has only finally updated its rules to allow equity crowd funding by small investors, in the last quarter of 2015.
In recent news, CISA, which allows companies to share their information on their customers with government agencies (in theory in order to protect against cyber attacks) was passed, as part of an omnibus spending bill. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the companies have to provide information, right? At the moment, that might be the case, but under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, a “common carrier,” which now includes ISPs, must obtain a certificate from the FCC in order to operate. So it would certainly be possible for the FCC to set very stringent requirements for ISPs, which could make it easier for the government to obtain information on its user.
It’s rather interesting however, that many of the same organizations that trust the FCC to police the internet to maintain its neutrality, are so untrustworthy when it comes to personal information. If the government were trustworthy, we wouldn’t have to worry about it misusing this data. And while this isn’t specifically an argument to demand that net neutrality is unacceptable, it does show an inherent contradiction in people who support one and oppose the other, and so exists as a way to simply dismiss the assertion that net neutrality is a good idea.
Finally, the fact that this was passed as part of an omnibus spending bill, speaks to the need to have a constitutional amendment that prevents unrelated material from being attached to bills.
1. How the Internet Works (8th Edition) (Amazon.com)