Excerpted from a commentary by John Naughton:
“On Tuesday, the US Federal Communications Commission, which has the power to set the rules for internet use in the US, issued a ruling which administered the latest kick to the hornets’ nest. In an admirably succinct summary, my Guardian colleague Charles Arthur puts it thus: the FCC “seems to have done the right thing – defending neutrality – for fixed-line broadband, but fumbled it on mobile“. This is because the proposed rules “seem to allow mobile carriers to decide that they can introduce pay-per-service charges, so that Skype or YouTube or Facebook might be charged to get their content on to the networks; alternatively (or perhaps additionally), users who wanted those services might find themselves being charged extra. That, obviously, means that those services are not being treated in a ‘neutral’ way. Which means that you don’t have net neutrality.”
Or, to put in another way, the FCC seems to have endorsed net neutrality for the past (fixed-line internet connections) while abandoning it for the future.
Does this matter? Yes, because while most people still get their internet connections via fixed-line broadband, the likelihood is that in 10 years’ time a majority will access the net via wireless connections. And if the FCC ruling stands, the wireless sphere will be anything but neutral. It will be dominated by the carriers – the telcos – who see no merit in neutrality. Which is why some people feel that the FCC’s decision effectively means kissing goodbye to the open internet. “The neutering of the internet is now the unofficial policy of the Federal Communications Commission,” writes Dan Gillmor, for example. “Contrary to the happy talk from FCC chairman Julius Genachowski… the move is well underway to turn the internet into a regulated playground for corporate giants.”
Sceptics about net neutrality will doubtless portray this as an over-reaction. Until I read Tim Wu’s new book – The Master Switch: the Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Knopf, 2010) – I might have agreed with them. But Professor Wu places all this in a more sombre context – of what he calls the Cycle.”
And the cycle is this:
“History shows a typical progression of information technologies: from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel — from open to closed system.”