FCC chairman's explanations don't calm net neutrality fears

Internet fast lane
Does having a fast lane harm users who aren't in it?

The Federal Communications Commission has really pushed the internet's buttons lately, and despite his efforts, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has done nothing to un-push them.

A report this week that the FCC's new guidelines will demolish net neutrality prompted first a statement, then a full-blown official response from Wheeler, but the chairman is sidestepping concerns instead of addressing them.

"There has been a great deal of misinformation that has recently surfaced regarding the draft Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we will today circulate to the Commission," Wheeler wrote on April 24.

He continued, "The Notice does not change the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination among users established by the 2010 Rule."

There's a 'but' coming, right?

"To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the internet will not be permitted," Wheeler said, hopefully ironically, because that statement is far from direct.

It sounds alright on the surface, but who gets to define what behavior is harmful to consumers? All this hubbub is because the FCC is proposing letting ISPs charge extra to facilitate internet "fast lanes," but isn't that harmful to anyone who's not in the fast lane?

Wheeler hasn't addressed this concern directly, though an FCC spokesperson did send a statement over to The Verge concerning what the commission thinks ISPs might "reasonably" charge for faster service.

"We don't know," the spokesperson said. "We want to have a broad public debate. We want to know how people are affected in their daily life. We want to know how businesses are being affected. We want to know if innovation is being affected."

Vaguely explained

One positive example, according to the FCC, is an ISP favoring a person's heart monitor; but that's only one example, and it still prioritizes one internet user or service over many others, a precedent that in all likelihood will ultimately turn out bad for internet users.

Where will the FCC draw the line? And what makes the commission think ISPs will act responsibly with such vaguely described restrictions as "commercially reasonable" and "no unreasonable discrimination," as Wheeler wrote in his statement?

One important caveat in the FCC's current proposal is that the commission will retain final say in what's lawful and what's not. Wheeler concluded his statement by describing the three tenets he's focused on now:

"That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network; that no legal content may be blocked; and that ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity."

He said he wants to be able to enforce a set of rules by the end of 2014.

This wouldn't have happened when Julius Genachowski was in charge. Just sayin'.

Michael Rougeau

Michael Rougeau is a former freelance news writer for TechRadar. Studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Northeastern University, Michael has bylines at Kotaku, 1UP, G4, Complex Magazine, Digital Trends, GamesRadar, GameSpot, IFC, Animal New York, @Gamer, Inside the Magic, Comic Book Resources, Zap2It, TabTimes, GameZone, Cheat Code Central, Gameshark, Gameranx, The Industry, Debonair Mag, Kombo, and others.

Micheal also spent time as the Games Editor for Playboy.com, and was the managing editor at GameSpot before becoming an Animal Care Manager for Wags and Walks.