WSJ Wants Not Neutrality

The Wall Street Journal’s campaign against net neutrality started in earnest last April with a question from op-ed columnist Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.:

End of the Net Neut Fetish?

Hooray. We live in a nation of laws and elected leaders, not a nation of unelected leaders making up rules for the rest of us as they go along, whether in response to besieging lobbyists or the latest bandwagon circling the block hauled by Washington’s permanent “public interest” community.

This was the reassuring message yesterday from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals aimed at the Federal Communications Commission. Bottom line: The FCC can abandon its ideological pursuit of the “net neutrality” bogeyman, and get on with making the world safe for the iPad.

Of course, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is hardly the last word on anything. Regardless, four months later, Jenkins answered his own question after Google and Verizon cut a deal to end-run net neutrality:

End of the Net Neut Fetish

Historians, if any are interested, will conclude that the unraveling of the net neutrality movement began when the iPhone appeared, instigating a tsunami of demand for mobile Web access.

They will conclude that an ancillary role was played when carriers (even some non-wireless) began talking about metered pricing to meet the deluge of Internet video.

Bottom line: Google and Verizon made a deal that net neutrality can be tolerated for the Net, but not for wireless users.

Of course, the two companies needed the cooperation of the Federal Communications Commission, and that arrived this week. But first the Journal had to pull the fire alarm, thoughtfully provided on Monday by FCC commissioner Robert M. McDowell:

The FCC’s Threat to Internet Freedom

The pull quote says it all:

‘Net neutrality’ sounds nice, but the Web is working fine now. The new rules will inhibit investment, deter innovation and create a billable-hours bonanza for lawyers.

Heaven forfend!

Cut to Wednesday’s Journal, where John Fund positions the FCC decision as a coup for liberal anti-corporatists:

The Net Neutrality Coup

The Federal Communications Commission’s new “net neutrality” rules, passed on a partisan 3-2 vote yesterday, represent a huge win for a slick lobbying campaign run by liberal activist groups and foundations. The losers are likely to be consumers who will see innovation and investment chilled by regulations that treat the Internet like a public utility.

Of course, you can also make the opposite case, as Gawker noted in this post:

Net Neutrality Passes, Immediately Pisses Everyone Off

The Federal Communications Commission today approved rules discouraging internet access providers from charging websites for favorable treatment. That might sound like a good thing, but it’s actually a terrible surrender to big business, or alternatively a communist plot.

The ACLU said “the FCC has failed to protect free speech” while a Republican FCC commissioner called the vote one of the “darkest days in recent FCC history” and an act of vigilantism. What actually happened is that the commission forbade internet service providers from blocking content; required them to disclose how they filter traffic, for example by slowing down BitTorrent connections; and forbade them from “unreasonable” discrimination against websites, for example by giving some sites more bandwidth. Wireless service providers are exempt from the discrimination ban, however.

Stay tuned for further developments.

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