Unpopular opinion: The FCC hasn't killed Net neutrality

For now, at least -- in fact, it may have made the best move possible, considering the circumstances

After two weeks of forced hiatus in an anger management detox center because I may or may not have tried to stab Mark Zuckerberg in an all-nude Lazer Tag arena he owns with James Franco, I'm back and scouring this big blue marble to see what's been happening in the technology world. It's not encouraging.

News leaked that Verizon attempted to challenge the NSA's snarfing of our phone data via its demented PRISM program -- and had their butt handed to them by the highly impartial (of course) Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Microsoft has announced that Windows XP users are screwed only days after support for XP ended via yet another zero-day Heartbleed-paling vulnerability in the digital Swiss cheese that is Internet Explorer. A few dozen lawyers and judges are apparently in need of money, so they've allowed the Apple-Motorola patent pissing contest to resume.

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And Net neutrality has again reared its ugly head, which spells immediate digital doom for all of us poor, starving Internet users. Or does it?

Bezos, can you spare a billion?

Sure, the fast-lane/slow-lane concept might suck, but it makes a certain kind of sense if you can momentarily refrain from frothing at the mouth and look at the details. Like everyone else, I'll take Amazon and Netflix as examples. Reportedly, these behemoths can account for more than half of all Internet traffic depending on the time of day, so asking them to pay more for that privilege doesn't seem out of line. Besides, if Bezos can lose almost $3 billion daily and still sleep well that night, I'm pretty sure they can afford it.

Some folks argue that we don't need to change the current system since Big Media probably pays more for said bandwidth already. The thinking is that current payment models rely on per-megabyte/gigabyte/LOL bandwidth usage for any Internet service, which means the Amazon-Netflix digital industrial complex is even now paying through its nose with more shekels added for the likes of edge-content delivery networks to ensure smooth transmission. If that's true, why did Netflix feel the need to make its peering deal with Comcast, and following that deal, why does its Comcast net-speed graph look like a Cialis ad?

The FCC defanged

We need to remember that the FCC lost a whole mouthful of teeth a few months ago when the DC appeals court effectively took away its power to regulate these pipes. The recent FCC announcement makes no direct mention of the fast-lane/slow-lane concept; instead, it uses legalese to effectively say, "We're operating on an honor system right now, and we're not going to do anything unless that system is violated in a meaningful way." Given the castration the appeals court performed on the agency, I'm not sure it had much choice.

Yes, I'm still a proponent of reclassifying predatory pipers as telecom service providers for tighter regulation, but that's a difficult proposition for the FCC. Without clear signs of abuse, the agency likely lacks the lobbying power right now to make that stick.

If I'm Tom Wheeler, still smearing Bactine on my wounds from a thorough appeals court clawing, I'm probably not eager to face those bullies again without ironclad, double-barreled proof that Comcast, Verizon, and the rest are run by demon-worshipping sociopaths that drink blood from the bleached skulls of children, and the tech economy and American life as we know it will collapse and we'll all turn into stumbling zombies roaming deserted sidewalks in search of affordable, content-neutral Web access. A short-term "let's see if we even have to" approach was probably its smartest option at the moment, especially since Netflix already endorsed the speed-lane concept while simultaneously decrying it. (With friends like Netflix ...)

Bottom line: We have to wait. If our unfriendly neighborhood pipe people misbehave, then the FCC has clear cause to pounce. With what we know of Comcast, Verizon, and the rest of the revenue-ravenous pipe provider leadership, what are the odds that's not going to happen? It'll probably hurt somewhat in the near future, but it's better to wait until the FCC can show clear and indisputable evidence rather than tilt at windmills today only to lose again and provide future cash-infused, lobby-funded lawyers with a precedent they can use in the next courtroom brawl.

This article, "Unpopular opinion: The FCC hasn't killed Net neutrality," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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