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A hallway dispute that could open up a real public debate

Companies Scuffle with the FCC on Net Neutrality

The rest of the protesting corporations are concerned about what they see as an unacceptable muddle in the proposals: they allow access providers to charge them for faster service but treat content providers as one single-color community. That doesn't take into consideration that some providers, like NetFlix, charge customers for content and so can pass along transmission costs to them. But others, like Facebook, count on that high speed traffic a lot less in their business model; they are advertisement-driven businesses. They just don't provide content that needs higher-speed traffic but definitely count on traffic that uses the current high-speed connections.

The FCC doesn't stipulate clearly how the access providers are allowed to figure out charges -- will it be based on how much data is transmitted or a blanket, monthly fee? With these vague regulations, these companies could be left having to pay a lot of money for a service that is only a small part of their business.

The Commission also doesn't explain whether the access providing companies will be allowed to slow down their "normal" connections to make the high-speed connection more attractive or not speed up the unpaid connections as technology makes high speeds easier to implement and offer. In that scenario, the more likely one, we could end up with the same speed connections we have today while the Internet becomes capable of operating at twice or three times that speed. Access providers would only make that technology available to higher-ticket customers.

That would be a huge blow to the profitability of many of these businesses. They simply wouldn't be offering what's available and they would almost certainly see a drop-off in customer numbers as a result.

Cynically, which is the way corporations frequently act, the companies' letter to the FCC reads like a Declaration of Free Speech. "The Commission's long-standing commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open internet are a central reason why the internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth," the letter reads. "This Commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets."

Of course, the proof is in the implementation pudding and that's not in this oven. They don't say one word about how they would protect the Internet or what the FCC should do...other than postpone its vote. That, if history's lessons are worth applying, is what they do when they want to pull a fast one because, after a time of "reflection", they come to terms with the FCC about who pays what and how and the only people forgotten in that transaction are the majority of people in this country.

In a stunning answer to the companies' letter, FCC Chairman Wheeler wrote that he "will not allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service." But that is exactly what he has proposed and, under this proposal, there is no way he can guarantee what he's pledging.

If the companies get their way, the "public process" would be little more than a negotiation between them and the FCC. But it may not go that way.

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