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What is Net Neutrality and Why is Tom Wheeler Public Enemy Number One?

FCC Chairman Wheeler: “I am a strong believer in the importance of an Open Internet. As President Obama has explained, “Preserving an Open Internet is vital not just to the free flow of information but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity.” -“He’s blowing smoke,” says Pulitzer Prize winning writer Michael Hiltzik.

If you are looking for public enemy number one on the internet these days, a stellar candidate would be Tom Wheeler. In fact, Wheeler blows away the competition right now.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford? Too much comedy, sorry. Soon-to-be former Clippers owner Donald Sterling? Close, but he has already been served his rightful dose of humble pie.

Nope, Tom is the clear winner. Wheeler, of course, is the current Chairman of the FCC and also a former wireless industry lobbyist.

“…and also a former wireless industry lobbyist.” Yeah, you read that right.

Wheeler is under intense criticism after a speech he made about a proposal for an “open internet” sounded less lot more like a man charged with making “….available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges,” (Telecommunications Act of 1996) and more like a lobbyist trying to win business for his buddies.

What is Wheeler arguing for? His plan would see telco giants like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T relieved from their existing burden of “blocking or degrading” internet services, meaning tiered pricing in which consumers would have to pay for an internet “fast lane” and a system in which broadband providers would be able to charge content providers like Netflix and Amazon for the kind of broadband speeds that are necessary for them to operate.

This, of course, flies in the face of Net Neutrality. What is Net Neutrality? The term was coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, and refers to the idea that ISPs should treat all data equally for fear that the open, democratic nature of the web could be gradually led into a world of censorship and suffer from a lack of competition.

Wheeler says his plan simply misunderstood. In a post on the FCC blog on Wednesday, he aimed to set the record straight.

“I am a strong believer in the importance of an Open Internet,” he wrote. “As President Obama has explained, “Preserving an Open Internet is vital not just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity.” That is why I have made preservation of the Open Internet a priority for the FCC.

“He’s blowing smoke,” says L.A. Times economy writer Michael Hiltzik. “The critics are right. Wheeler’s proposal will turn the Internet as we know it into the private preserve of a handful of rich and powerful companies. It will make them richer and more powerful. And you’ll be getting the bill. If the commission votes for the proposal, it will then be subject to months of public comments. But the risk is it could become law by the end of this year.

Hiltzik continued: “What makes this plan especially frightening is that it arrives at the same time as another major threat to net neutrality on which the FCC must vote: the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the nation’s two biggest Internet service providers.These two proposals are the Scylla and Charybdis of the open Internet. It’s possible — remotely — that net neutrality could sail safely past one or the other; but the two together, if approved, would inevitably send net neutrality to the bottom of the sea.”

The FCC is allowing public input. And the electronic comment filing system reserved for this subject has been inundated. At press time, the most recent comment, from filer “m hamilton” began with this paragraph:

“As others rightly note, this proposal would work only under ONE condition: if businesses like “cable companies” cared more about customers than profits. As we all know, that is not a realistic condition to meet. So your proposal is NONSENSE.”

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.

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