This post was originally published December 20, 2017, and has been updated to reflect new information.
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Net Neutrality is a phrase that’s been in the news a lot lately, and with good reason. To distill it down to its simplest form, it is the nondiscrimination law of the Internet. It protects our ability to communicate freely online, to visit the websites we choose, and to view the content we want to see.
Last Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of dismantling their own 2015 rules and relinquishing their authority over Internet Service Providers. What does this mean?
The way has effectively been cleared for the nation’s largest phone and cable companies to block, throttle, and discriminate against content they don’t like.
Major communication companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon will have the ability to slow down their competitors’ content in order to drive more traffic to their own. They can charge extra fees to allow some companies greater speed, while leaving others in the dust. They can block content completely—websites, messaging apps, and video services like FaceTime and Skype—unless you pay a fee.
This ruling will likely have far-reaching impacts on the way we use the Internet, both personally and professionally. This week’s blog condenses the major points down to the 10 most important, so you’ll know better what’s happening now and what to expect in the coming weeks and months.
The principle of Net Neutrality is that all web traffic should be treated the same by the companies which provide us Internet access. Allowing a corporation to control that traffic puts freedom of information at risk, and many have argued that it directly affects our right to free speech.
Net Neutrality doesn’t favor large tech companies—they still have to pay more for using more bandwidth because their usage is considerably higher than the average person’s. Google, Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter, to name just a few, have all spoken out against the repeal, saying it would allow broadband providers to manipulate access as a way to play favorites.
Just two years ago, the FCC classified the Internet as a utility, like telephone service, giving itself the authority to fine any network that throttled, blocked, or otherwise discriminated against specific website content. Those protections have now been repealed.
The risk of data discrimination is not theoretical. There have been multiple cases of it in the past, including an instance relatively close to home when BellSouth blocked its users from accessing MySpace.com in Tennessee and Florida.
You can also clearly see in the graph below how various ISPs were throttling Netflix in 2013 and how streaming speed skyrocketed after Netflix reached an agreement with Comcast in January 2014. They pay more money, Comcast stops throttling. As you can also tell from the graph, Netflix did not come to similar agreements with AT&T or Verizon at that time.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai argues that this rollback will eventually benefit consumers because broadband providers could offer them a wider variety of service options. Why consumers would need this wider variety of service options if the whole of the Internet were to remain freely accessible remains unclear.
“We are helping consumers and promoting competition,” Mr. Pai said. “Broadband providers will have more incentives to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”
This is an interesting statement given that in his first 11 months as FCC chairman, he has eased caps on how much broadband providers can charge business customers and cut back on a low-income broadband program that was slated to be expanded to nationwide carriers--essentially denying Internet access to the previously mentioned underserved areas.
Further Reading: The Main Argument for Rolling Back Net Neutrality Is Pretty Shaky
Mr. Pai’s argument for promoting competition in the industry isn’t a very good one. A high-speed broadband service takes billions of dollars to build and implement, meaning there aren’t many heading for the marketplace. Most Americans have only one or two Internet providers in their area, making it difficult to switch if they become unhappy with their service.
Further Reading: Home Developer Built ISP because State Law Restricts Municipal Broadband
Thornton spent more than $400,000 to build his own fiber network and link it with a power cooperative in Stevenson, Ala. [...] Thornton’s partner, the North Alabama Electric Coop, started laying fiber after obtaining a $19.1 million federal grant in 2010.
Telecom experts say that giving ISPs the option of creating faster tiers of service for those companies willing to pay for it could also result in the stifling of political voices or give telecom conglomerates with media assets an edge over their rivals—for instance, Comcast owns NBC and could potentially prioritize that content at the expense of other networks or services, like Netflix—whether that expense comes in the form of charging extra fees or simply providing the content at slower speeds.
In a survey conducted by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, 83% of people from all sides of the political spectrum said they were against the repeal of Net Neutrality.
What’s next? It looks like a lot of lawsuits. Attorneys general of 18 states have signed a letter of intent to sue on the basis of identity theft and fraud.
Free Press also intends to file a lawsuit, but in the meantime is fighting for a resolution of disapproval from Congress that would nullify the planned repeal.
To learn more about the issue, its ramifications, and what actions you can take, visit BattleForTheNet.com or FreePress.net to voice your opinion to your congresspeople.
The FCC’s repeal was published in the Federal Register on February 22, which effectively kick-starts the next phase of the fight.
The senators who support net neutrality and want to see it reinstated now have 60 legislative days to find one Republican who’s willing to break ranks and support the resolution under the Congressional Review Act. They already have 50 votes, including all Democratic senators and one Republican, but they need 51 to pass the measure.
The odds that the resolution will actually come to a vote in the House are not great, and even if it passed, the president almost certainly wouldn’t sign it. However, the process will force lawmakers to pick a side on an issue many of their constituents feel strongly about—during a campaign year.
At the same time, those who plan to file lawsuits are now allowed to do so, and a number already have, including Public Knowledge, New America’s Open Technology Institute, the California Public Utilities Commission, and a group of 23 state attorneys general led by New York.
Tomorrow, February 27, you can join Free Press and Battle for the Net in Operation #OneMoreVote, a concentrated day of action to get the word out and secure that final vote. You can participate in any number of ways: changing your profile photo, sharing on social media, displaying an alert on your website—visit Battle for the Net for more info.
Stay informed on the issue by checking Net Neutrality: The Always Up-to-Date Guide, a great resource published by Sabai Technology.
Catherine has a degree in English literature and a passion for all things marketing. As Digital Specialist, her focus is on web design, search engine optimization, social media, online presence management, and project coordination.