SDN Blog

Hunker down for long, high-stakes debate over Internet rules

Posted on Thursday, March 05, 2015 in Broadband Internet

Blog written by

FCC Net Neutrality Vote

A much-anticipated vote over proposed Internet regulation came and went recently, but there is no resolution in sight to the high-tech controversy.

The five-member Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Feb. 25 to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility. Now the courts and possibility Congress could get into the fray.

First, a few hundred pages of rules and support documentation await examination and interpretation by experts.

'It’s really going to have a significant impact on how things play out in management and oversight of the worldwide web.' - Greg Dean

The FCC’s intent is to guarantee the open flow of information on the Internet. For now, at least, the FCC vote designates the Internet to be a regulated utility, like a traditional telephone service.

Some business and consumer groups have feared that a few large Internet service providers could start unfairly prioritizing the flow of Internet traffic. They worry that an Internet burdened with rules will hurt commerce by increasing costs and dampening creativity.

Regulating the Internet is kind of like trying to set rules for truck traffic on an increasingly busy highway. Who gets to go first and at what, if any, extra cost? A fundamental question is whether new rules are even necessary to address the situation.

So far, the debate over so-called “net neutrality” mostly has captured the attention of large Internet companies and content providers, and some of their competitors and critics. General interest in the issue is likely to spread as debate heats up and more people recognize the potential consequences of regulation. Everyone from small business operators to consumers who watch movies could be affected.

“Everybody’s got a stake in this. It’s really going to have a significant impact on how things play out in management and oversight of the worldwide web as we know it today and in the year’s going forward,” says Greg Dean, director of industry relations for the South Dakota Telecommunications Association.

The SDTA is among the organizations monitoring the issue.

The probability is high that a national court challenge will be launched by some affected party, Dean says.

“That likely will take some time to play out. How long is anybody’s guess. I would say months would be optimistic,” he says.

Congress eventually could re-enter the debate, too. Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, promoted legislation to keep the Internet open and free of paid priority lanes without FCC regulation. However, the legislation failed to generate the bipartisan support considered necessary to effectively resolve the issue.

“We’re still kind of in a wait and see mode. I think there’s still a fair amount of apprehension out there.  Whether you’re a proponent or opponent of the rules, people are still kind of sitting on the edge to see what’s going on,” Dean says.

“Once we know what the roadmap is, we’ll do our best to take the rules as they’re put forward and live within the boundaries of the rules. But until there’s some certainty, everyone is kind of forced to sit on the sideline” he says.

Sioux Falls-based SDN Communications, the host of this blog, is among the businesses with a stake in the issue. SDN provides broadband connectivity and related communications services to businesses and institutions in the region.

SDN member companies in South Dakota, who serve consumers, also have a stake. So does nearly everyone else in the United States who works or plays on the Internet.

We’ll all just have to patiently wait for a resolution to this milestone issue.