While the future of how (and, ultimately, by whom) broadband Internet connectivity will ultimately be regulated remains to be determined, the current moment in Net Neutrality is an interesting one for what the media interest and wave of public comment to the FCC tell us. The seemingly overwhelming endorsement by the interested public of at least some version of neutrality, and the willingness (nay, demand) to see the federal government take on a role in ensuring neutrality makes for what seems likely to be an important constitutional moment in defining the future of Internet regulation and governance, regardless of how the regulatory (or, eventually, legislative) details are hashed out.
The American public has demonstrated that it doesn’t regard broadband Internet at all as an entertainment service — as something at least metaphorically akin to the cable television programming that some of its high-bandwidth users compete with — but as something more “utility-like.” A standard fixture, like hot-and-cold water or electricity, that we expect to be served without more than a health-and-safety level regard for what particular “appliances” (literal or metaphorical) we will plug in to it. While it is certainly the case that the Internet is also not the same as the traditional telephone network, and there may well be continuing challenges with how to “fit” the various component networks of the Internet into the (1930s vintage) Communications Act and (1990s vintage) Telecommunications Act regulatory model (or to replace that model), we’ve ended up with a clear picture of broadband Internet as an essential and at least relatively mature technology that is a vital component of modern life. And we’ve seen a clear sense that internet services must continue to interconnect fully and freely and with sufficient “neutrality” that equivalent access to “the same” broader Internet is available regardless of what natural-monopoly carrier serves a particular home or business.
We’ve certainly seen what seems to me to be a really powerful endorsement by the general Internet-attuned public that we regard the network (including the last-mile networks piped to our houses) as the infrastructure for the services we care about, not as the service, and that the public actually does “get” the values behind hoary old Internet end-to-end principles.