Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, announced Wednesday that there would be new rules written to guarantee net neutrality. It’s a good thing any website can reach any person unimpeded by tolls, and it’s good that Wheeler still wants to make this possible. The Internet service providers will first work to dilute the new rules, of course, and then sue to overturn them. Entire legal departments, lobbying outfits, and public-relations firms live for this moment, the beginning of a now-familiar three-year grind with the FCC.
ISPs have spent more than a decade arguing the same basic thing, sometimes in suits against the commission, sometimes in amicus briefs in support of the commission. Sometimes the question at hand has been a merger, sometimes the possibility of competitor access to their networks, sometimes the prospect of breaching net neutrality. The utterly consistent position from the ISPs has been this: Guarantee us a higher income stream from a more concentrated market, and we’ll build out new infrastructure to reach more Americans with high-speed Internet. A decade ago, this argument had at least the benefit of being untested.