The FCC, OpenSSL and the worst month in Internet history

no stop halt worst day ever blockI had understood that appointing the former head of the cable television industry and wireless lobbies as chairman of the FCC was not a good thing. I did not, however, understand how bad it would actually be until Chairman Tom Wheeler appeared to have pulled a 180 on net neutrality.

Though it may be weeks before the entire proposal goes public, Wheeler appears to remain in the pocket of cable companies and to care little for mere consumers, who the cable industry is happily taking to the cleaners.

Sure, Wheeler was a big packager of campaign money for Barack Obama and sailed through confirmation, but couldn’t we have done better?

Last time I checked, I was already paying AT&T extra money each month for a high-end connection that was supposed to be sufficiently fast for watching video over the Internet. Now, Wheeler seems ready to propose that media companies pay Internet providers extra for “fast lane” access to the Internet and customers’ homes. But isn’t a “fast lane” what I am already paying for?

I think we can presume that whatever content providers pay for their new fast lanes will show up in higher content costs and result in Internet where not all traffic is treated equally.

Screw that!

The FCC is in the running for being the worst agency of federal government. They tend to get the little things mostly right and the big things mostly, horribly wrong.

Of course, that comes from a guy who’d happily bring the Bell System back. And the Fairness Doctrine. Who wants truly clear channels back and bought AM stereo, which died, in part, because the FCC never selected a standard. I can go on.

This has been a really couple of weeks, during which two important Internet myths have been exposed. Who’d have imagined, for example, that OpenSSL, the software responsible for securing two-thirds of web sites was tended by only a single full-time developer? And no wide scale testing.

That April 7 Heartbleed revelation taught us that free software can be worth precisely what you pay for it. Plus the huge cost of making things right when it fails.

Meanwhile, the Internet has been sold as more open that in Tom Wheeler’s world it will turn out to be turning out to be. I understand that a few companies are turning the Internet into a cable television replacement. I even get the idea that they should pay for the extra bandwidth needed t0 provide that service.

What I don’t get is discrimination against start-ups and small users and everyone else who doesn’t operate at a Netflix or Amazon or YouTube scale. We need some sort of rational net neutrality, where big users pay for bandwidth but don’t get priority access at the expense of other users. The Internet should be a fair playing field and Tom Wheeler’s turn-around moves in the wrong direction.

While Wheeler’s controversial proposal is still a far way from becoming law, this setback to net neutrality, closely following the OpenSSL crisis, could make April 2014 the worst month in the Internet’s history.

And we still have a nearly a week left.

photo credit: Viewminder via photopin cc

About David Coursey

Editor-at-Large David Coursey is a veteran technology journalist with more than 25-years’ experience writing about business and consumer computing. Contact him at david@coursey.com.