What happens after we have ‘net neutrality?’

Mike Riggs Contributor
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Here’s what will most likely happen today: In the morning, the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will gather in a big room. The two Republican commissioners will read aloud passionate statements opposing the Democrats’ obsession with fixing a thing that is not broken. The three Democratic commissioners will read aloud passionate statements commending one another for saving the Internet from a dystopian future conjured out of whole cloth by paranoid public interest groups.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, previously a holdout, will vote for Genachowski’s plan; Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn will do the same. Chairman Julius Genachowski makes three to the Republicans’ two (commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Baker are both opposed to the rules).

They will hold a vote. The measure will pass. But still nobody will be happy.

Here’s what folks on the left want from the regulations but won’t get: According to Reuters, “Copps had wanted the FCC to reclassify Internet traffic under tougher rules applying to telephone service, while Clyburn has said she is uneasy about giving wireless Internet providers more freedom to manage their networks than wireline services.”

Free Press’ Tim Karr and Public Knowledge’s Gigi B. Sohn seem most concerned with the fact that Genachowski’s rules allow for “tolls,” meaning that companies like Comcast and Verizon would be able to charge more to deliver video content on behalf of companies like YouTube, Netflix, and Skype. (Public Interest groups are also frustrated that the rules would not cover wireless services.)

The rules will succeed in making it illegal for service providers to block access to legal sites and services.

Republicans on both the committee and in Congress want Genachowski to hold off completely, considering he’s already been told by a federal circuit court that Congress had not authorized his agency to regulate the Internet as it does telephones.

Genachowski is aware that what he’ll be selling tomorrow nobody really wants to buy. The prepared remarks his office released Monday night suggest that he is ready to play the martyr to get this ball rolling:

As we stand here now, the freedom and openness of the Internet is unprotected. No rules on the books to protect basic Internet values. No process for monitoring Internet openness as technology and business models evolve. No recourse for innovators, consumers, or speakers harmed by improper practices. And no predictability for the Internet service providers, so that they can manage and invest in broadband networks.

That will change once we vote to approve this strong and balanced order…

On one end of the spectrum, there are those who say government should do nothing at all.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who would adopt a set of detailed and rigid regulations.

I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework – one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment.

With the rules in place, the real fighting begins. Republicans in the House have sworn to overturn the regulations, and analysts and lobbyists expect to see points both broad and fine worked out in lawsuits.

“This will close one chapter on this issue, but we believe that because the rules will be high level and complaints will be addressed case by case, that much of the hard work is yet to come and will depend on the particular business models and traffic management the broadband providers develop and the response by app developers, Internet video providers, and other tech companies to those facts on the ground,” reads a report from Stifel Nicolaus.

In other words, the debate’s not over, it’ll just move to a new venue.