The FCC has gone and done it -- signed off on a watered-down version of Net neutrality that's mostly a dream come true for the major ISPs and a hard knock for anyone who uses the Internet, especially on mobile devices. The fight isn't over yet; it still needs to get through Congress. But if we continue to remain silent on what's happening here, the Internet as we know it will be a vastly different place.
I'm sounding the alarm now, louder and clearer. If the worst happens, I hope that someone will unearth this column from the ashes of the era of information freedom and say, "If only we had paid more attention to what was happening under our noses, it all could have been different." The game's afoot, and we stand to lose everything.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Bill Snyder presents the conservative case for Net neutrality, and Paul Venezia offers an open letter to Net neutrality's enemies. | Check out Paul Venezia's five-year plan to tackle the 8 problems IT must solve. ]
At first blush, some aspects of the FCC's Open Internet Order appear reasonable, perhaps even commendable, such as language that appears to prevent wired broadband providers from blocking sites or applications. However, the wording is vague and ambiguous, and it doesn't even define what an open Internet is. Not only that, but the wireless world is left largely in the hands of the carriers.
The Open Internet Order is an extremely poor compromise, one that is damaging in several ways. Perhaps most important, this is the advent of an official Net neutrality stance by the FCC. If it passes through Congress, it will become entrenched and used as the basis for new laws and regulations that we can't predict. By watering down what should be hard and fast rules governing how carriers can interfere with data sent to and from their own customers, this order may actually be worse than nothing at all.
The major ISPs' intent here is apparent: Under the guise of a compromised approach to Net neutrality, they're trying to insinuate themselves in arenas that they have no business entering, trying to get paid on every end of the equation, the provider and the consumer. They've built these pathways with public money, grudgingly served smaller markets, and generally treated their customers like canine excrement. Now they want more -- much more.
If we let this outright thievery happen, we probably will get what we deserve: a castrated Internet, where innovation will be difficult at best, at least in the United States, and where the very basic delivery of content over the Internet reverts to the handout-based model of cable networks. You'll get your Facebook, your Twitter, and your other small-bandwith services, but beyond that you'll pay -- dearly.
Imagine that when you're doing your last-minute Christmas shopping, you have to pay to enter the mall, then pay an additional fee every time you walked into a different store. Not only that, but the original mall was paid for by your taxpayer dollars. This is what your ISP wants. This is where we may be headed.