Internet Slowdown Day Hits as FCC's Tom Wheeler Hints at Neutrality Rules for Wireless
On Wednesday, Netflix, Digg, Reddit, Tumblr and many others took part in an online protest reminiscent of the 2011 anti-SOPA action to protest against the Federal Communications Commission's planned new Open Internet policy and the "fast lanes" proposal associated with it. Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hinted this week at expanding Net Neutrality-type protections to wireless broadband.
The protest, organized by "Battle for the Net" and its sponsors like Fight for the Future and Free Press, mimicked the 2011 online action that got lawmakers' attentions and largely helped defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act, which many Internet companies at the time said would destroy the framework of the Internet as we knew it.
We had previously wondered if a SOPA-type action would occur against the new FCC Open Internet proposal, which allows for "paid preference" deals between Internet service providers (ISPs) and online companies as long as they're not "commercially unreasonable." The move has been controversial with Net Neutrality advocates, who have been saying the new policy would neither support an Open or neutral Internet.
But this time, the protest is smaller in scale, and without as much bite. Supporters of "Internet Slowdown Day," like Netflix, are only displaying a banner on their site with the ubiquitous loading sign and a linked message supporting Battle for the Net's campaign.
In the 2011 anti-SOPA action, major sites like Wikipedia went completely dark, leaving lawmakers and their aides without an everyday resource they soon realized they'd miss. And despite the name of the protest, none of the sites are actually slowing their services.
Wheeler: Mobile Internet a "Key Component"
Meanwhile, the hard-to-gauge Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, said in a speech to the country's largest wireless industry association on Tuesday that mobile broadband constitutes an "important pathway to access the Internet," hinting that he might believe Open Internet rules (controversial though they may be) should apply to wireless companies as well.
Speaking on the importance of fostering competition and innovation in the wireless industry, Wheeler noted that "any discussion of competition leads to the issue of leveraging control over the last-mile to impact the rest of the Internet ecosystem." He added, "in other words, the Open Internet."
For all the Net Neutrality protections the now defunct 2010 FCC Open Internet rules provided, those regulations stopped at "fixed" Internet. As we previously noted when AT&T unveiled a plan to allow companies to "sponsor" data for the apps they're promoting, the fact that the 2010 Open Internet rules only applied to fixed connections ignored the fastest growing class of Internet access.
For example, with the Latino community, which is measurably ahead of the general U.S. consumer when it comes to digital savvy, a huge percentage of Internet access comes from smartphones.
Wheeler mentioned in his speech on Tuesday that he is interested in assessing the network management practices of all four major wireless carriers in the U.S., and mentioned Microsoft's support of regulating mobile broadband in the same way as fixed ISPs.
Whether Wheeler is strengthening his hand with the wireless industry in response to critics on his left who say his entire new Open Internet is too weak, and/or whether he genuinely sees an issue in the fact that mobile broadband is expanding in capability but yet still unregulated in how it treats customers and data is unknown. But one thing is for sure: the picture of Tom Wheeler, and the future of Internet regulatory policy, keeps getting more complicated.
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