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FCC commish: We don't need no steenkin' net neutrality rules

Just as deadline approaches for public comment on internet fast lanes

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There's no need to issue new network neutrality rules since they wouldn't necessarily have any benefit, and people don’t really care about network performance issues, according to US FCC commissioner Michael O’Reilly.

The Republican commissioner made the comments in an op-ed piece for National Review, co-written with Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

The article argues that the proposed changes to network neutrality rules work on the assumption that it's a good thing. But there hasn't had a proper cost-benefit analysis performed, which is a requirement under President Obama's Executive Order on the topic.

"If the FCC had actually followed Executive Order 13563, it would have found that there is no rational justification for the proposed rules, and the inquiry would have ended there," the pair assert.

"That’s because the compliance costs for ISPs would certainly outweigh the hypothetical benefits for consumers, who are not experiencing any concrete harm today. Instead, the FCC made a groundless, impassioned decision to press forward without doing the necessary work."

Under the proposed rules, ISPs would be able to negotiate on an individual basis with internet companies looking for a fast lane to users, so long as it's "commercially reasonable." But websites can't be arbitrarily blocked and there's a requirement for service providers to publish detailed reports on their speeds and feeds.

"Broadband providers would be expected to report on every aspect of their practices and services, including metrics like jitter and packet corruption, which are unlikely to be meaningful to the average consumer," the Republican duo assert.

"Expensive and burdensome reports that add no measurable consumer benefit are exactly the type of regulatory overreach that cost-benefit analysis is meant to prevent."

The new rules, adopted by the FCC on May 15 in a 3-2 vote (O’Rielly dissented), are now up for public comment, although July 15 is the cutoff point for submissions. By September 10 the commission will have worked out its response and proceed with the new framework.

There will be a lot of comments to go through. Public outcry has been strong enough to jam the FCC's switchboards – and more than 100 technology firms, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon, have argued against the plan. Communications companies meanwhile have launched a massive lobbying push to push against any move to a more neutral internet.

Whether all that comment will change the FCC's mind remains to be seen. There is another option – simply declaring internet provision a "common carrier" service under Title II of the Communications Act which would require ISPs to provide a strictly non-discriminatory service.

But that's unlikely to happen, particularly in light of political pressure, so we're going to have to wait and see what FCC chairman Tom Wheeler will have come up with in the autumn. ®

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