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Woz: Net neutrality decision a victory over 'bad behavior'

Technically Incorrect: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says that the FCC overseeing the Web will be a positive step in controlling illegality. He also describes it as a victory for consumers.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Steve Wozniak is celebrating a victory for consumers. Bloomberg screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The Web is a beautiful thing.

That's what Steve Wozniak believes. He attended today's meeting of the Federal Communications Commission in order to witness beauty being protected.

Speaking to Bloomberg, the Apple co-founder said: "The Internet was so beautiful when it first came out." It seems hard to recall those times, given the proliferation of grime that populates it now.

Woz believes it got ugly because the Internet-access providers started making decisions. "Do we trust them?" said Woz.

No was his answer. "We need some kind of supervision of their bad behavior. Are they likely to make deals and accept bribes?"

They wouldn't do that, would they? Whom can you trust, indeed?

Still, Woz is excited by the FCC's decision to classify broadband as a public, "Title II" utility to ensure that access providers can't privilege certain websites and services over others, through paid or other arrangements. That decision goes, he said, "a lot further than Net neutrality. Title II regulation means oversight of bad behavior." Such oversight should not be confused, he said, with meddling or controlling.

The trouble is, though, that organizations like the FCC have something of a reputation for doing just that. The commission, after all, made decisions about Janet Jackson's right breast, that seemed a little much.

Part of one of Ms. Jackson's nipples was revealed by Justin Timberlake during the Super Bowl halftime show of 2004. The FCC fined CBS (parent of CNET) $550,000 for allowing such a scene. (The fine was withdrawn in 2011.)

Tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, for one, is worried that the FCC might have a very strange view of neutrality. The decision might mean, he speculated to CNBC, that TV would now be regarded as the same as any other form of bits-transmission and that arrangements between cable operators and a channel like QVC, for example, which actually pays the providers to carry its wares, would be forbidden.

Merely attempting to parse it this way shows that there are still areas of neutrality that are open to definition.

Some critics even say networks will now be forced to share their facilities with their competitors. How neutral is neutrality really supposed to be?

House Republicans believe that this very uncertainty created by something that appears so simple will lead only to more legal challenges and therefore even more uncertainty.

Woz, though, has a very romantic view of life. It can be very uplifting. For him, today's decision is a victory for consumers over The Man.

In essence, he's most worried about "things in the background" that might have been going on and may still be going on. These things haven't emerged to the public ear. He seems to be hoping that the FCC will serve to protect us from the consequences of these secret things.

But decisions are one thing. The practicality of how these decisions are administered can be something entirely unexpected.

Only time will show not only how this decision is enacted, but also how it's interpreted and perhaps challenged by those with their own vested interests.