Mozilla Has a Plan to Save Net Neutrality

The Firefox-maker pitches a new idea to prevent Internet “fast lanes.”

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
See more stories about...
Brendan Sasso
May 5, 2014, 11:09 a.m.

Moz­illa is ur­ging the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion to en­act new rules to bar In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders from char­ging web­sites for faster ser­vice.

In a fil­ing with the FCC on Monday, the non­profit found­a­tion that makes the Fire­fox Web browser out­lined a new leg­al path to en­act tough net­work-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions.

Chris Ri­ley, a seni­or policy en­gin­eer for Moz­illa, said the group’s pro­pos­al is “groun­ded in a mod­ern un­der­stand­ing of tech­no­logy and mar­kets” and would “help en­sure that the In­ter­net con­tin­ues to be an in­nov­at­ive and open plat­form.”

The fil­ing in­tro­duces a new angle to the de­bate over reg­u­la­tion of In­ter­net ac­cess, but it’s un­clear how in­ter­ested the FCC will be in Moz­illa’s pro­pos­al.

In Janu­ary, the D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals struck down the FCC’s old neut­ral­ity rules. FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er wants to re­work the rules in a way that can sur­vive fu­ture court chal­lenges.

His pro­pos­al would bar In­ter­net pro­viders from block­ing any web­sites but (un­like the old rules) would al­low them to charge for spe­cial “fast lanes” in at least some cases. The FCC is set to vote on wheth­er to move ahead with Wheel­er’s pro­pos­al on May 15.

Lib­er­als are out­raged that the FCC would al­low In­ter­net fast lanes, say­ing it would al­low ISPs to pick win­ners and losers and would tilt the In­ter­net in fa­vor of the largest cor­por­a­tions.

Con­sumer ad­vocacy groups are ur­ging the FCC to re­clas­si­fy broad­band In­ter­net ser­vice as a Title II “tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions ser­vice” — a move that would dra­mat­ic­ally ex­pand the FCC’s leg­al au­thor­ity and al­low it to re­in­state strong rules that ban fast lanes. But re­clas­si­fy­ing the In­ter­net un­der Title II of the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act would prompt a massive back­lash from Re­pub­lic­ans and busi­ness groups, who warn the FCC would be grant­ing it­self new un­checked reg­u­lat­ory powers and would risk stifling the growth of broad­band net­works.

In its fil­ing Monday, Moz­illa pro­posed a third op­tion. The FCC should use the Title II op­tion — but only for the re­la­tion­ship between web­sites and ISPs, not the re­la­tion­ship between con­sumers and ISPs, the group said.

The pro­pos­al would al­low the FCC to bar ISPs from char­ging web­sites for fast lanes while still us­ing the cur­rent light reg­u­lat­ory re­gime for oth­er In­ter­net is­sues that af­fect con­sumers, the group said.

Moz­illa ar­gued that its pro­pos­al is not “re­clas­si­fic­a­tion” be­cause the FCC has nev­er ex­pli­citly defined the re­la­tion­ship between ISPs and Web com­pan­ies.

“With our pro­pos­al, the FCC would be able to shift its at­ten­tion away from au­thor­ity ques­tions once and for all, and fo­cus in­stead on ad­opt­ing clear rules pro­hib­it­ing block­ing and dis­crim­in­a­tion on­line,” Ri­ley wrote in a Moz­illa blog post.

Har­old Feld, a seni­or vice pres­id­ent for the con­sumer group Pub­lic Know­ledge, ap­plauded the pro­pos­al, which he said is a “nov­el idea” for sav­ing net neut­ral­ity.

He said the fil­ing is sig­ni­fic­ant not only be­cause of the sub­stance of the pro­pos­al but also be­cause of who is mak­ing it. The cable in­dustry has been warn­ing against tough reg­u­la­tion, but Moz­illa’s fil­ing shows that power­ful busi­ness in­terests are on the side of net neut­ral­ity, Feld said.

“This cre­ates a new con­stitu­ency that says Title II is not a ‘nuc­le­ar op­tion.’ Title II is a tech­nic­al thing that you’ve got to do,” Feld said.

But Moz­illa’s pro­pos­al may not be much more polit­ic­ally vi­able than the full-scale Title II op­tion.

Ber­in Szoka, pres­id­ent of the liber­tari­an group Tech­Free­dom, said the “prac­tic­al ef­fect of their pro­pos­al would be al­most ex­actly the same as re­clas­si­fic­a­tion of broad­band gen­er­ally.” He said that the idea looks easy on pa­per but that in prac­tice it would be “messy, slow, and un­pre­dict­able.”

“Open­ing the door to Title II at all would still cre­ate sig­ni­fic­ant reg­u­lat­ory un­cer­tainty that would harm broad­band in­vest­ment, and thus make con­sumers worse off,” Szoka claimed.

What We're Following See More »
SHE’LL HAVE A ROLE WITH CLINTON CAMP
Wasserman Schultz to Resign at Week’s End
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"After hours of private talks," Debbie Wasserman Schultz agreed to step down as chair of the Democratic National Committee after the convention ends. In the wake of the convention intrigue, Hillary Clinton announced she's making Wasserman Schultz "the honorary chair of her campaign's 50-state program."

Source:
MARCIA FUDGE TO PRESIDE
Wasserman Schultz Stripped of Convention Duties
13 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz "will not have a major speaking role or preside over daily convention proceedings this week," and is under increasing pressure to resign. The DNC Rules Committee on Saturday named Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge as "permanent chair of the convention." At issue: internal DNC emails leaked by Wikileaks that show how "the DNC favored Clinton during the primary and tried to take down Bernie Sanders by questioning his religion."

Source:
EARLY BUMP FOR TRUMP?
New Round of Polls Show a Tight Race
2 days ago
THE LATEST
  • A Rasmussen Reports poll shows Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton, 43%-42%, the fourth week in a row he's led the poll (one of the few poll in which he's led consistently of late).
  • A Reuters/Ipsos survey shows Clinton leading 40%-36%. In a four-way race, she maintains her four-point lead, 39%-35%, with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein pulling 7% and 3%, respectively.
  • And the LA Times/USC daily tracking poll shows a dead heat, with Trump ahead by about half a percentage point.
BELLWETHER?
Candidates Deadlocked in Ohio
3 days ago
THE LATEST
17-POINT EDGE AMONG MILLENNIALS
Clinton Dominates Among Younger Voters
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

In an election between two candidates around 70 years of age, millennials strongly prefer one over the other. Hillary Clinton has a 47%-30% edge among votes 18 to 29. She also leads 46%-36% among voters aged 30 to 44.

Source:
×