Op-Ed: Get involved in the debate on net neutrality

Posted May 5, 2014 by George Arthur
On May 15th, 2014 the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to the general public which will outline new guidelines to govern the Internet.
These new rules are expected to dramatically alter the landscape of the Internet, and as a result, a number of tech experts and journalists have gotten out ahead of the NPRM to comment on potential impacts based on what is already known of the soon-to-be-public proposal.
By and large, commentators are expecting the NPRM to send net neutrality the way of the dodo. To quote Chris Morran of The Consumerist, “Recently installed FCC Chair Tom Wheeler apparently has no interest in actual net neutrality, as the new rules he’s proposing this week allow for Internet service providers to create so-called 'fast lanes' for content companies willing to pay extra to more reliably deliver their data to the end-user.”
Such a system is worrying, as a tiered scheme for delivering web content threatens the spirit of the free market on the Internet. As pointed out by The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the language being used by the FCC ahead of public release of the NPRM is suggestive of a “pay-to-play” system. EFF authors continue, “[such a] model would be profoundly dangerous for competition. New innovators often cannot afford to pay to reach consumers at the same speeds as well-established web companies.”
In turn, the concern is that new companies with innovative ideas may not emerge as the new latest, greatest in the tech world simply because they won’t be able afford to reach their audience in a meaningful way, regardless of the merit of their offerings. The thinking goes that if the coolest, most important site of all time was created, no one would use it if the webpage took an hour to load. Instead, a web-giant would probably just make a spin-off of the site and reap the rewards.
Reddit cofounder Alex Ohanian has launched a crowd funding campaign to place a billboard smack dab in front of FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s office in Washington D.C., and in a post describing why he has launched the campaign wrote the following:
“On May 15, the FCC plans to kill the idea of net neutrality and replace it with a 'cable-ized' version that costs more for consumers, enables discrimination across services that make use of the net, and makes it harder to access the stuff that we access each day today (from video streaming to file saving and sharing). On top of all that, it'd have a chilling effect on entrepreneurship -- all for the benefit of a few cable companies.
Let's defend the rights of the open internet and tell the FCC that it's not okay for them to side with an oligopoly of internet providers”
One of the ways to get involved in the debate is to write the FCC at the e-mail address they created specifically to receive comments and opinions from the public, which is There are also a few petitions to sign, and a Reddit post by user 'drydorn' handily lists links to them.
While it’s certainly difficult to develop a rounded opinion on a proposal that has not yet been released, it is worthwhile to consider getting involved in the conversation based on what is already known.
For example, there is quite a bit of leaked information on the NPRM, as well as an official rebuttal of media claims from FCC Chair Tom Wheeler; there is also an article on Slate by Marvin Ammori that decimates Wheeler's rebut.
Continuing on, there are a number counter-proposals suggested by the likes of Netflix, Marc Andressen and Mozilla (among others), which indicate that there may be more palatable solutions to reform the Internet than the one that seems to be coming down the pike. Study them and figure out which to support for yourself.
Another reason to get involved now is that once the NPRM is made public on May 15th, the public will have just 30 days to contact the FCC regarding the proposal, at which point the FCC will review the NPRM and make a decision on whether to keep, alter, or abandon the plan. Thirty days isn’t a lot of time, and it is widely known that Tom Wheeler plans to push through new laws, whatever form they may take, before the end of the year.
And so, regardless of your opinion on net neutrality, it’s worth making your voice heard, and now. With so much at stake with regard to the future of one of, if not the most powerful tool for innovation and expression in the modern world, every Internet user should engage in the conversation as in a few short months the new Internet will be here, for better or worse.