The Battle for the Net Has Been Won, but the War Has Just Begun

February 26, 2015 | Monty McKeever

Team Internet, champion of Net Neutrality, is a loose coalition of internet enthusiasts who often seem to have nothing more in common than a basic level of common sense. It is a coalition that consists of a majority of the population as well as prominent voices ranging all the way from establishment figures like Barack Obama and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to activist groups like Fight for the Future, Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street. Their goal is to preserve the open internet we have always known, where content is not blocked and where connection speed is not based on how much ones pays.

The anti-net neutrality camp, Team Cable, primarily consists of big telecom and cable companies and the politicians, media execs, and individuals they influence. Their goal is to create a “tiered internet,” where Internet Service Providers have an unprecedented ability to regulate content and where the web is broken into fast and slow lanes depending on the user’s standing with their ISP.

After a vicious battle that has been raging on for over a year, Team Internet is victorious. This victory was achieved on Thursday when the FCC, with a 3-to-2 vote along party lines, passed the strongest net neutrality rules in America’s history. The plan is to regulate the internet under parts of Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934, which classifies the internet as a public utility and is the same act that has regulated phone service for over 80 years. It also contains provisions to protect privacy and to make internet service available to people with disabilities and in remote areas. Regarding the internet’s new classification as a utility, President Obama offered the rationale: “For most Americans, the internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation elaborated on the monumental FCC vote:

As expected, the FCC’s new rules forbid ISPs from charging internet users for special treatment on their networks. It will also reach interconnection between ISPs and transit providers or edge services, allowing the FCC to ensure that ISPs don’t abuse their gatekeeper authority to favor some services over others.

That’s great for making sure websites and services can reach ISP customers, but what about making sure customers can choose for themselves how to use their internet connections without interference from their ISPs? To accomplish this, the FCC has banned ISPs from blocking or throttling their customers’ traffic based on content, applications or services—which means users, hackers, tinkerers, artists, and knowledge seekers can continue to innovate and experiment on the internet, using any app or service they please, without having to get their ISP’s permission first.

Even better, the rules will apply to wireless and wired broadband in the same way, so you don’t have to worry that your phone switching from Wi-Fi to a 4G network will suddenly cause apps not to work or websites to become inaccessible. Lots of people use mobile devices as their primary way of accessing the internet, so applying net neutrality rules to both equally will help make sure there is “one internet” for all.

So congratulations, Team Internet.

Nevertheless, while the battle may be over, the war is just beginning…

Licking its wounds after today’s defeat, Team Cable is sure to immediately launch a multi-pronged counter-offensive with every weapon at their disposal. Lawsuits will be a primary field of combat. AT&T has already made its intentions to challenge the Title II ruling in court quite clear. Other companies are sure to follow suit.

There will also undoubtedly be an endless stream of propaganda. For a sneak peek of the type of spin Team Cable will be launching, take a look at this piece, “From the Internet to Obamanet,” in the Wall Street Journal Thursday. While it makes a few somewhat valid points about the imperfect aspects of public utilities (there definitely are some), the piece basically reads like a copywriter and lobbyist sat down in a room and barfed out a 700-word version of Ted Cruz’s infamous “Net Neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet” tweet. More of the same can be seen coming from the geniuses over at Fox News, Media Matters has pointed out. Beyond the “Obama-fication” tactic, Team Cable’s PR strategy also involves efforts to portray the new rules as a government power grab. (This can also be seen at Fox.) What is missed is that regulation can also mean the regulation of what corporations can get away with, as is the case with Title II.

Team Cable would be more laughable if they weren’t so well-funded. This is going to get ugly…

Welcome to the War of the Internet.

(Photo: Blaise Alleyne)