New legislation sponsored by several California Congressional representatives could force the FCC’s hand in keeping the Internet neutral and free. The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would prohibit Internet fast lanes, paid super-highways that would allow for-profit companies to purchase top speeds for their preferred content.
Congresswoman Doris Matsui, a member of the House Energy, Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, is leading the effort along with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. California’s Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo are original cosponsors of the legislation.
The effort is especially timely, in that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under Chair Tom Wheeler, has appeared to vacillate on the issue. Wheeler says all the right things, including that “the prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable.” But in the wake of a federal court ruling that struck down previous protections, Wheeler has proposed a weak set of rules that would permit well-heeled companies to purchase super-speeds. Wheeler, who was previously an industry lobbyist, has drawn criticism from consumer groups and comedian John Oliver, who compared Wheeler’s oversight to “a Dingo when you need a babysitter.”
Oliver got more than just laughs in response to his critique. He encouraged consumers to send comments to the FCC, and they did so in record numbers, crashing the agency’s website.
It’s easy to see who would be the winners and who would be the losers on an Internet superhighway. Netflix has famously insisted it backs net neutrality, even while inking deals with Comcast and Verizon for super speeds for its content. And this takes place in the context of a smaller and smaller number of Internet providers controlling a bigger and bigger share of the traffic.
The Matsui bill is good news for consumers, as is the attention Oliver’s rant brought to the issue. The FCC needs to know that not just the industry is paying attention, but that the rest of us are watching too.