If net neutrality is so important, why is it so controversial? It’s complicated.
Alexis C. Madrigal and Adrienne LaFrance Apr 25 2014
But this debate isn’t just about the specific wording of the possible FCC rules (though those are important). People have been talking about the principle of net neutrality, in one way or another, for more than 15 years, since Monica Lewinsky dominated the headlines.
This idea of net neutrality—this cherished idea, even, among Internet entrepreneurs and activists—has a long history, roughly as long as the commercial world wide web. It is, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig has argued, what makes the Internet special.
He used to call the principle e2e, for end to end: “e2e. Not b2b, or b2c, or c2b, or b2g, or g2b, but e2e. End to end. The core of the Internet, the core value that defined its power, the core truth that made innovation around it possible, is this e2e,” Lessig said in a 1999 talk. “The fact – a fact – that the network could not discriminate in the way that AT&T could.”
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A decision by the FCC in 2002 to classify companies like Comcast as “information service providers” instead of “telecommunications carriers” ultimately undermined the agency’s efforts to regulate those companies the way a telecommunication carrier would be regulated.
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By common law, common carriers were 1) required to serve upon reasonable demand, any and all who sought out their services; 2) held to a high standard of care for the property entrusted to them; and 3) limited to incidental damages for breach of duty. The concept of common carriage crossed the Atlantic and became part of the American legal system. Common carriage was broadly applied to railroads and later other transportation as well as communications media. In 1901, following many state courts, the U.S. Supreme Court held that at common law– i.e., even without a specific statute– a telegraph company is a common carrier and owes a duty of non-discrimination.
Phi Beta Iota: History will probably show that the FCC mistake — if it was a mistake, it was actually probably a deliberate lobbied tactic — will be as detrimental to the US public as the mistake of rendering corporations as persons.