26 October 2009

Neutrality: debate goes nuclear in US, unclear in Europe

26 10 2009 - As widely predicted, the FCC's announcement last week of formal rule-making to ensure Internet neutrality has set off a firestorm in the US. Some of the firestorm is even being fed by people who know what they're talking about.. much of it isn't.

As everyone by now knows, the FCC last week announced a set of six Internet Principles - designed to safeguard the open Internet - and its intention to make rules. Nothing will happen immediately (there will be a public discussion period) but in the end the FCC will legislate to make sure these principles are concreted into the framework of Internet governance.

The announcement has now set off the anticipated frenzy from paid lobbyists, political hacks and tame academics. Amongst them, Senator John McCain (he of the failed presidential bid), who announced he was introducing a law to protect the Internet from the FCC.
This sort of 'Democratic Peoples Republic of Ruritania' speak, which means the opposite (no democracy, no republic, not influenced at all by 'the people') is a common feature of this debate.

In fact McCain accurately represents a strand of thought which sees the Internet as just another corporate play - the political goal is therefore to come to a fair settlement between the sectorial interests affected by the Internet's rise.

This, by the way, was very much the drift of the appalling Digital Britain report released earlier this year by Lord Carter (don't be fooled by the title - he's an ex-cable TV chief executive, hence the nasty stink of corporatism pervading his meanderings).

Back in the US though, what is noticeable so far is an attempt to link the Internet neutrality issue with the US health issue and to cast the FCC's intervention as some sort of socialism, needlessly being applied to an otherwise perfectly functioning capitalist hotspot.
And even amongst the normally 'pro-neutral brigade' in the US, there has been some unease that the precedent set by the FCC on 'regulating' the Internet might result in counter-productive legislation and disastrous interference later.


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