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Why 120 people protested outside San Francisco City Hall (Hint: 'Hybrid' net neutrality)

Here's what you need to know in latest web fast-lane row

706, Title II, Congress – sounds dull but is extremely important

Originally, Wheeler was keen on putting broadband under the two-paragraph "section 706" of much more recent 1996 legislation. But when the issue of telcos charging websites for so-called "fast lanes" became the focus, people decided that the part of Title II that the carriers are not allowed to "make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services" would be useful.

Of course, the real solution would be for the US Congress to legislate for modern realities rather than force government agencies to shoehorn vital services into old laws. But even with a Republican majority in both houses, Congress remains so dysfunctional that even the dreamers scoff at the idea of a new law to fix the problem.

Fish in a barrel

So on one side you have large corporates who want the ability to do what they've always done and segment up the market, charging as much as each different group will bear. And on the other side all of their customers who are sick to death of being forced to pay as much as they can bear, who would pay large sums of money not to be separated from their internet, and as a result know that they are fish in a barrel.

The third party in this mess is the content providers. Netflix has become the most prominent critic since it is in the rather difficult position of both shaking up the deeply entrenched cable market and relying on the cable companies to deliver its product at the same time.

If the telcos and cable companies are forced to adhere to "net neutrality" they would be legally prevented from doing anything that Netflix could view as discrimination. This battleground doesn't worry the FCC that much: telling one company that it can't do what it's doing to another company is the organization's bread-and-butter. It's the whole dealing with the actual public that is problematic.

Hence the "hybrid" solution where a distinction would be made between "wholesale" and "retail" broadband delivery. This approach presents the FCC with its smallest headache. It gets the lobbyists and lawyers (and politicians) off its back and it enables it to act as judge between two companies, rather than in defense of the public as a whole. The only problem is, as, Tracy Rosenberg told protesters last night, that distinction leaves "our internet" out on a limb and gives cable companies free reign to figure out how to make as much money as possible from their capture audience.

So what advice did the organizers have to turn things around?

Sadly, not much. Everyone listened, felt suitably irritated, chanted a few slogans and took a group photo with their phones in order to "shine a light" on the "corruption" of Washington. And tweeted a bit.

They were urged to keep up to date with development through organizations like Free Press and the Media Alliance. And to spread the word.

Kit Walsh from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) appeared to offer some hope when he promised that activists were working on how to use existing municipal infrastructure and set up mesh networks that would bypass the whole system.

But then I think we all knew that in reality we'd probably end up just paying Comcast an extra $20 a month to save on the hassle.

And then everyone drifted away. Glad they'd done something. Given vent at least. Clued themselves up. Been shafted but shouted about it.

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