There’s been an interesting twist to the never-ending net neutrality debate. Mozilla, makers of the Firefox browser and all-round champion of Internet freedom, has proposed a novel way the Federal Communications Commission can legally protect net neutrality, giving activists and the Obama administration what they’ve wanted all along.
In a nutshell, what Mozilla’s doing is asking the FCC to reclassify Internet-provision and web traffic under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, something that would ensure it remains neutral.
But Mozilla’s proposal is a bit more complex than that. The first stage involves the FCC reclassifying web traffic as a telecommunications service, which means it must be available to everyone without any graduated service. The second part of its proposal is to provide similar protections for the relationship between ISPs and content creators. Mozilla says this should be called ‘remote delivery services’ and given the same kind of protection.
Mozilla’s senior policy engineer Chris Riley lays out the foundation’s proposal in a blog post, saying, “The path we propose is grounded in a modern understanding of technology and markets, and drawn from the perspective of Silicon Valley, where so many of the Internet’s inventions have originated.”
“Mozilla’s proposal would help ensure that the Internet continues to be an innovative and open platform, central to our individual growth and our collective future,” he adds.
Net neutrality dead and buried
Presently, web traffic is designated as an information service, rather than telecommunications. This decision was made back in 2002 by ex-FCC head Michael Powell, the son of US General Colin Powell. When Julius Genachowski was appointed by President Obama to lead the FCC in 2008, it was hoped he might reclassify the web as telecommunications, but instead he chose to try and protect net neutrality through other means. That plan came a cropper in the courts, and the FCC has since been forced into a rethink. One ruling in particular, the case of Verizon vs the FCC, has left the door open for ISPs to throttle certain kinds of web traffic, forcing companies like Netflix to pay for faster connections.
Tom Wheeler, the current FCC chief, said he’s okay with this. He recently announced a new plan to create rules governing such deals between ISPs and content creators, allowing the latter to ensure their web traffic is prioritized over that of ‘ordinary’ sites that can’t afford to pay for such privileges. While this would seem to leave net neutrality dead and buried, Wheeler claims the FCC will continue to protect consumers by making sure there’s no “unfair discrimination” on the part of ISPs.
Internet freedom advocates remain totally unconvinced by this, and there’s been a bit of a campaign on to try and pressure the FCC into doing what Mozilla has now suggested. Currently, the NoSlowLane.com petition has already attracted more than 50,000 signatures, and with Mozilla now throwing its weight behind the idea it’s sure to gather some steam.
President Obama has long portrayed himself as a defender of net neutrality, so it’ll be interesting to see if this idea takes root. Back in 2007, when still campaigning to be the Democrats Presidential candidate, Obama gave a speech at Google’s campus, where he insisted, “we have to ensure free and full exchange of information and that starts with an open internet.
“I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality, because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The internet is perhaps the most open network in history, and we have to keep it that way,” he added.
With Mozilla’s proposal on the table, Obama’s been given a fresh opportunity to do just that. Whether or not he’ll make good on his promise remains to be seen.