On Monday, President Obama released his official statement on net neutrality. Amid the stewing debate that has fueled bipartisan politics and ignited the debate of rights that corporations possess, the President voiced his support for neutrality, acknowledging the importance of the Internet for the economy and transmission of thoughts and ideas, saying that:
An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.
The President’s points were outlined by these four ideals:
- No blocking users to sites or services as long as the content is legal
- No throttling - slowing down certain types of services or ISP preferences
- Increased transparency between consumers and ISPs
- No paid prioritization for sites or services that agree to pay a fee in order to prevent being stuck in a “slow lane”
While the argument serves as fodder for the increasingly bipartisan state of American politics, and might ruin Thanksgiving if you find yourself at opposing ends of the debate with your relatives, President Obama doesn’t really have a lot of say in the matter (despite what Senator Ted Cruz thinks). The decision is the FCC’s alone. Clearly, though, the POTUS thinks that the issue is important enough to call upon Title II of the Telecommunications Act:
...the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.
Even if we were to reclassify the Internet as a utility, it would require a GOP-dominated Congress to agree with the President (ha!). But even with this latest bolster for net neutrality supporters, the President did not directly address wireless. He did, however, include it in his emphasis on the importance of net neutrality in the market:
Investment in wired and wireless networks has supported jobs and made America the center of a vibrant ecosystem of digital devices, apps, and platforms that fuel growth and expand opportunity. Importantly, network investment remained strong under the previous net neutrality regime, before it was struck down by the court; in fact, the court agreed that protecting net neutrality helps foster more investment and innovation.
So, what exactly does this mean?
The FCC has only tentatively covered what it plans to do regarding mobile Internet access, as it classifies it as “wireless” (versus “wireline,” the Internet you use in your home on your laptop, for example) and, thus, separate from the current discussion. The most that has been stated is that it acknowledges that the state of wireless access is a unique one. However, many companies are supporting the idea that wireless and wireline are one in the same, as users utilize both in equal numbers.
In September, as the FCC was beginning to revisit the issue, Dropbox released a statement on their blog in favor of net neutrality, citing the detrimental effects on app development. Dropbox currently works with a number of big name apps, including Microsoft Office, Yahoo! Mail and Cisco WebEx Meetings.
Internet service providers should not be able to play favorites or discriminate against the data we access on websites or apps.
But new rules are currently being considered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that could seriously harm net neutrality by opening the door for backroom deals prioritizing certain websites or apps over others.
These rules could hurt the future of online innovation. For instance, developers could be discouraged from creating new apps and sites without net neutrality rules in place. There are over 300,000 apps built on the Dropbox platform alone, and these developers’ success depends on an open Internet where traffic is treated equally.
Google has also weighed in on the debate with an official statement that says:
…no Internet access provider should block or degrade Internet traffic, nor should they sell ‘fast lanes’ that prioritize particular Internet services over others. These rules should apply regardless of whether you’re accessing the Internet using a cable connection, a wireless service, or any other technology.
The blog post also mentions a petition letter that was signed back in May that has a list of signatures including, but not limited to, the likes of Amazon, Ebay, Easy, Netflix, Reddit, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter and Tumblr. All of these companies also have apps that are popularly used, so it makes sense that they would have a lot to say in regards to the future of their mobile audiences as well.
Despite a seemingly unanimous cry for net neutrality from the companies that offer both wireline and wireless services, mobile access has been kept out of the debate. Will wireless be lumped in with wireline? Will the FCC address it as a separate entity? Will President Obama’s words be enough to sway the opinion of the FCC in favor of all internet access? Is the FCC currently too busy to worry about wireless versus wireline because it’s flooded with letters? I’d like to see some stronger answers, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below and share.