Thanks to Tom Wheeler, the end of the open Internet is nigh

The very fate of a free society rests on enshrining the open Internet -- and the FCC chairman seems determined to do the opposite

We need a hero to save the Internet in the United States. I mused that perhaps new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, despite coming out of the industry he now regulates, would have some kind of crisis of conscience and do what is ever so clearly the right thing to do: Preserve the open Internet. I didn't have much hope that this would be the case, but it was worth a shot.

Sadly, there was no crisis of conscience to be had. Wheeler has stepped right in line with his telecom lobbyist roots and has proposed something actually far worse than doing nothing at all. He wants to actively promote a tiered Internet through a dual fast-lane and slow-lane approach. This is no form of regulation or control over an increasingly monopolistic industry, this is going the other direction entirely -- this is the U.S. government actively promoting the death of the open Internet.

[ InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely defends the FCC's Net neutrality approach, and Serdar Yegulalp explains what's in the proposal. | Pick up expert networking how-to advice from InfoWorld's Networking Deep Dive PDF special report and Networking newsletter. ]

There isn't language strong enough to fully register my displeasure with Wheeler's proposal and with Wheeler himself. The FCC's previous chairman, Julius Genachowski, was not effective enough to land true Net neutrality regulations, but he did at least try, and his position on the matter was aligned more with reality and sanity. Wheeler's position is aligned directly with the interests of the very communications industry that he is supposed to be regulating. And these corrupting interests are just so outrageously blatant -- they truly don't even care to hide it anymore.

To state this plainly, we have given the big communications companies literally billions of dollars in taxpayer money over the past few decades to build massive networks. Not only have they repaid none of that, but they are consolidating control over the Internet and charging ever-higher prices for mediocre services. At the same time, they are succeeding in removing any sort of regulation over their industry, and they are pocketing massive sums of money rather than improving and extending their networks -- their profit margins are much higher than in most other industries, in fact.

They're winning. They are winning, and their goal is to turn the open Internet into AOL, with themselves as the gatekeepers. Preventing such outcomes is why the government's authority over the airwaves and telecom utilities exists in the form of licenses and communications regulations. They are designed to prevent a few providers from controlling the playing field.

But what we are looking at now is a complete abdication of that responsibility by the U.S. government, through the very office designed to prevent such things, as well as through Congress and local governments.

Public opinion on this matter is muddled at best. Heavy spin by various interest groups has destroyed the actual meaning of the term "Net neutrality," leading some people to believe that it's the exact opposite of its actual definition. Others don't think it's a big deal or don't understand anything about it.

It'd be simpler and easier for lay people to digest if we refer to this whole mess as the open Internet versus the closed Internet.

We have enjoyed an open Internet since its creation, but Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, and AT&T want a closed Internet. They want to enforce their own decisions about what people read, see, and hear on the Internet -- not so much about the content itself but the maximum price they can get for it. They want to get paid coming and going, by both content producers and content consumers, funneling all of that traffic through circuits paid for in large part by the very taxpayers who are also their customers. This isn't business, this is just bald-faced extortion and double-dealing.

Back in his 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama appeared to grasp the threat of a closed Internet, saying that companies like Google and Facebook "might not have been started if you had not had a level playing field for whomever's got the best idea, and I want to maintain that basic principle in how the Internet functions." He said Internet service providers should not "charge different rates to different websites" because that "destroys one of the best things about the Internet." More damning, he also said that he would "make sure that that's the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward."

It's more than abundantly clear that Wheeler, Obama's current FCC chairman, is trying to do the opposite. We all know how fragile campaign promises are, but the future of the U.S. and by extension the world rests on this decision. That's no exaggeration: We are at the cusp of a massive change in how we perceive freedom of information and freedom of ideas. We are about to ensure our continued technological, financial, and societal progress -- or actively destroy it.

Wheeler is on the side of those destroying it. After seeing his proposal, I believe that he should step down from his position or be replaced if he refuses. It's clear that he is not at all suitable for his job.

This story, "Thanks to Tom Wheeler, the end of the open Internet is nigh," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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