What is Net Neutrality and Why You Should Care
8 months ago
You may have heard buzz recently about Net Neutrality. In an effort to better understand what is happening, and how it might influence all of us, I’ve done a little research and am sharing my findings.
I would love to hear what you think about Net Neutrality, as I believe the best way to make an informed decision is by hearing individual stories and opinions along with the “experts”. Drop your comments below.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the is the principle that all Internet Service Providers must treat Internet data the same. The current rules state: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and Verizon, cannot block, throttle or prioritize certain content on the Internet.
Like a phone service must allow calls through (unless the user chooses to block them), ISPs must let all legal websites through to your device (unless you choose to block them).
The FCC regulates “net naturality” by labeling all ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. This label was applied in 2014 after several lawsuits and a massive outcry by the public.
What happened to set the current rules?
We’ve had this very same discussion under the previous FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Here’s what went down:
In January 2014, as a result of a Verizon lawsuit, the D.C. District Court struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules. They found that the current Net Neutrality rules were based on a flawed legal foundation, but still left the FCC to determine new rules.
In May 2014, the FCC, led by Chairman Tom Wheeler, introduced their proposal for net neutrality rules, which discuss the problems that occur when ISPs get to choose winners and losers online, but still allowed for fast lanes and slow lanes online, and did not go far enough to establish meaningful net neutrality.
The FCC accepted public comments on this proposal, and received a record-breaking 4 million comments calling for reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service. This updated classification would allow the FCC to enforce net neutrality and would be in line with the court's 2014 decision. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler published an op-ed proposing Title II authority, including for the first time mobile broadband protections, in February 2015.
On February 26th, 2015, in a historic vote, and after an unprecedented outpouring of public support, the FCC voted to pass the Open Internet Order, enacting the strongest net neutrality rules in history.
What is happening now?
Under a new Chairman, Ajit Pai, former Verizon lawyer, the FCC is now attempting to revoke the Open Internet Order and reclassify broadband as a Title I, changing ISPs from carriers to information providers, which are very lightly regulated, if at all.
The decision to alter the current net neutrality rules will be made in a December 14, 2017 Open Meeting.
What does this mean for you?
Removing the current rules that force ISPs to provide equal access to Internet sites could result in several changes in our current Internet:
You’re probably going to pay more.
Internet access will look more like cable packages. The change might be slow, but providers aren’t going to miss out on a golden opportunity to increase profits from companies and consumers that are essentially a captive audience.
How could they do it? You could be required to pay separately for access to “premium” sites, like YouTube or social sites. ISPs like Comcast or ATT&T could also charge businesses like Netflix or YouTube higher prices to get “fast lane” access to users, or risk being slowed and harming their service. These expenses could potentially be passed along to you, the consumer.
The Internet could be biased.
Right now, if you search for a website about political issues on the Internet, you’ll find a variety of sources and content (which may be organized in a biased way by Google, but that is an entirely different issue). Without the current regulations, ISPs could block you from reaching some of the content that right now they are legally required to allow you to access, if you take the time to find it.
While many ISPs like Comcast are claiming they will continue to offer unbiased access to Internet sites (although they have now changed their wording to quietly suggest they will charge tolls), it would now be legal for them to slow or even block content from users. Political, social, and other content sites could be fast tracked or completely blocked based on the ISPs discretion. While this is an extreme view of the situation, the scary part is that it would be possible.
Small businesses could suffer.
As a small business ourselves, we’ve been able to thrive in the extremely competitive arena of software development and digital marketing products because of the open Internet. We can compete equally against our giant counterparts because we have equal access to you, the end user. If forced to pay for faster bandwidth on top of the advertising we already pay for, it would be harmful to our bottom line and make it much more difficult to compete in a space that used to be a huge benefit for us.
Small retailers, for example, already have a difficult time keeping pace with big box stores like Walmart or Amazon. The Internet is a place that can help level the playing field and allow small business to connect with their local (or distant) audiences through social means, blogging, and other strategies that could be affected by changing net neutrality rules.
Or, look at this infographic example using pizza.
Why would the FCC make this change?
I've found a few different explanations for why the FCC would re-open an issue that many feel has been adequately addressed.
Some, like Pai, argue that limiting ISPs under Title II of the Communications Act is “killing the Internet”. Regulation inhibits the open market determining what content deserves more attention or bandwidth. Fewer regulations allows capitalism to blossom, and we as consumers will still determine what is being offered because of what we choose to consume. For example, we aren’t going to pay Comcast for content that is below-par or access to slow connections, forcing them to provide what we want at reasonable prices.
Some also argue that not all Internet searches are created equal. For example, doctors researching archives deserve more bandwidth than people looking up the engagement of a royal.
There are also some businesses that would benefit from changing broadband from a Title II to a Title I. Large ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, and ATT&T have fought for these regulations to be loosened, giving them more power in their role as provider than a mere telecommunication company.
Susan Crawford from Wired has another interesting persepctive. She argues that Net Neutrality isn’t the basis of our problem, and this vote is more of a smokescreen that will allow the FCC to make changes to the regulations that will fit their agenda. She claims that the legally allowed monopoly companies like Comcast hold over large portions of the country are a big problem that gets shoved under the rug. The ISPs already have an unreasonable amount of control over who accesses the Internet. Read more about the issue here.
Regardless of why the changes are being made, they will impact us as consumers. Only time can say exactly how.
What you can do about it.
The vote is scheduled to be held on December 14, only a few weeks away.
If you’re as concerned as millions of others about access to the Internet being altered, you can take action:
Find one of the many petitions on the Internet to sign. Here is one on Whitehouse.gov.
You can email all five leaders of the FCC to express your support for Net Neutrality. Here are the email addresses you need to know—
Ajit Pai, Chairman (Republican) - Ajit.Pai@fcc.govMignon Clyburn, Commissioner (Democract) - Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.govMichael O’Rielly, Commissioner (Republican) - Mike.O’Rielly@fcc.govBrendan Carr, Commissioner (Republican) - Brendan.Carr@fcc.govJessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner (Democrat) - Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov
If you’d rather call your representative directly you can find your senator’s number here and your House of Representative member’s number here.
Net Neutrality supporters have already organized a day of rallies across the country on December 7, just one week before the FCC votes. According to organizers, the events are set to take place at Verizon stores, both because the company has spent millions lobbying against Net Neutrality and because the current FCC Chairman used to be one of Verizon’s top lawyers.
You can find a list of locations here. Battle For the Net is also planning drop-in events at a few politicians’ offices, which you can find here.
The most important step is educating yourself, and talking to others about the issue. Feel free to drop comments or opinions below.