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The Future of Net Neutrality is Still Uncertain

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After a January court case left the FCC without a legislative leg to stand on, the net neutrality debate has been heating up. While FCC officials have stated that the agency is still committed to a free and open Internet, the future of net neutrality as a doctrine remains uncertain.

The public comment period closed in September, and all decision-making migrated behind closed doors. Since then, the only information the public has received are promises from the FCC staff that regulation and changes are coming “soon.”

According to Wall Street Journal tech policy writer Gautham Nagesh, a ‘hybrid approach’ is on the way:

The plan now under consideration would separate broadband into two distinct services: a retail one, in which consumers would pay broadband providers for Internet access; and a back-end one, in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute. The FCC would then classify the back-end service as a common carrier, giving the agency the ability to police any deals between content companies and broadband providers.

This twin solution doesn’t sound like a bad idea, as it would allow the FCC to regulate effectively and protect consumers against monopolies. However, it doesn’t settle the question of the fast lane for consumers.

TechCrunch contributor Alex Wilhelm thinks the hybrid approach may be a fear-driven decision:

The FCC appears hesitant to impose a complete ban on paid prioritization, or other commercial deals between ISPs and content companies due to what I can only surmise is a fear of accidentally suffocating a potentially innovative market niche by being overzealous in its protection of the Internet’s level playing field.

So far, the net neutrality doctrine hasn’t saved the Internet from the problems that neutrality advocates fear, nor has it acted as a robust regulation either. It’s come under legal challenges, and any new regulations are likely to meet the same pressure.

Whatever the FCC decides, it’s unlikely to please everyone. Hopefully, some semblance of an answer will arrive after a vote that is expected in December.

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