The Slow Death of Network Neutrality

Many people soiled their suits this week when it was revealed that Google and Verizon – with the apparent oversight of the Federal Communications Commission – began negotiations about how to implement a tiered Internet. If solidified, and officially endorsed, it would have marked the beginning of the end of the principle of network neutrality on the Internet.
The parties involved have denied this activity, to their chagrin.
Predictably, reformistas cried foul as loud as they could. And when it was finally announced (by the FCC, of all constituents) that such talks were “off,” unrealistic paeans to the power of grassroots democracy were spread far and wide.
This is by no means a “victory.” It’s like celebrating the avoidance of a potentially-fatal car accident.
The primary reason for such skepticism is the policy momentum behind network neutrality. Both President Obama, and his FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, have proclaimed themselves strong supporters of regulation against data discrimination in the past. Once both got in office, however, the tide inexplicably turned, and quickly.
So, having headed off the largest practical threat to network neutrality to-date, where do we go from here? This where you can’t avoid the realpolitik. Just because the “backroom” deals have been officially called off doesn’t mean they won’t happen – just in different places, through different communicative modes, and in a more circuitous fashion. Anyone who believes this is the “end of the era of backroom deals at the FCC” is simply on drugs, and should really know better.
For the FCC’s part, it’s proclaiming that it’s going back to “square one” in the effort to justify its ability to regulate against online data discrimination. Seeing as how telecom network service providers are salivating at challenging that effort in court (again), just how the FCC has any agency in this process anymore (politically or otherwise) is murky at best.
As for Congress: don’t look for any help there. Senator John Kerry – a staunch supporter of network neutrality back when he ran for the White House – says “Congressional stalemate” will most likely keep a legislative solution to this issue off the table for the foreseeable future, thus dumping this mess back into the hands of an untrustworthy FCC. As previously reported, this applies to a lot of progressive telecom legislation right now.
Only two commentators, so far, have had the stones to personally call out FCC Chairman Genachowski for allowing this clusterf*ck to progress to the point that it has. More of this is called for, and here is why:
Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Regardless of the relative power-politics in D.C. right now, the issue of Internet freedom is being backed into a dangerous corner, and if there was ever a time to actively engage in the knife-fight, it is now, regardless of what your angel-funders think. What have we got to lose, except freedom of speech online?