Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to adopt a new open internet rule. We were critical of this rule when FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski first announced it at the beginning of the month, and we remain skeptical.
First, the good news: the new rule prohibits wired broadband owners — usually telecom companies like Comcast and Verizon that provide cable and DSL service to homes and offices — from discriminating against information by throttling, slowing or otherwise tampering with the transfer of any data on the wired Internet. No tampering with legal content moving from point A to point B.
Now, the bad news, and it's pretty bad: the rule is on shaky legal footing and it doesn't apply to wireless Internet — the kind you access on your cell phone. The legal question is particularly frustrating. After the D.C. Circuit rejected the FCC's last efforts to establish open internet rules — largely because of questions over FCC authority — the ACLU and many other groups argued that broadband providers offer a telecommunications service and should therefore be regulated like telephone companies. (Don't fall for the others side's tricks; we are not regulating the internet — just making the owners of the infrastructure play fair). Such a change — reclassifying such services to match telephone companies - would provide robust protections. Sadly, the FCC bowed to industry pressure and refused to adopt this change.
Additionally, the failure to incorporate wireless internet in the new rule is hardly forward-thinking. Studies have shown that Americans' use of the Internet is migrating away from home and office use and more towards wireless use. In fact, a Pew Internet & American Life Project study released this past summer shows that 59 percent of adult Americans use the wireless Internet, including a disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic users.
And with this newly adopted rule, that 59 percent will be at the mercy of big telecoms. For example: say you and a friend are driving around, and you get lost. You both whip out your smartphones: you've got an iPhone with AT&T, but your friend has a Google Android phone on Verizon. Guess whose phone might load Google Maps slower? Or maybe even not load it at all?
Now that the FCC has voted, this issue is in Congress's court. Tell your member of Congress we need strong Net Neutrality protections for the entire Internet, not just the wired one.