Net Neutrality: The Continuing Fight

What is Net Neutrality:

The concept of net neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all web traffic equally, and not speed up, slow down, or otherwise manipulate internet content in a way that favors certain traffic over others.  It means that ISPs shouldn’t be able to slow down a service like Netflix and force them to pay for faster speeds for their users.

What has happened:

In 2015 the FCC voted 3-2 to adapt what is referred to as the “Open Internet Order” which implemented strict net neutrality rules, including prohibitions on site and app blocking, speed throttling, and paid internet fast lanes.  This new order also reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.  Title II provides the regulatory authority the FCC used to prohibit ISPs from blocking or throttling traffic and from giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment.  Before this set of rules was established, the internet was classified and enforced under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which states, “It is the policy of the United States… to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”

What is happening:

In late April, newly appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to roll back the changes made under the Obama Administration.  And On May 18th, the FCC in a 2-1 decisions to officially begin the replacement process of the “Open Internet Order.”  In a statement after the decision Pai stated, “Today, we propose to repeal utility style regulation of the Internet.  We propose to return to the Clinton era light touch framework that has proven to be successful.  And we propose to put technologist and engineers, rather than lawyers and accountant, at the center of the online world.  The evidence so far strongly suggests that this is the right way to go.”

Argument against Net Neutrality:

One of the main arguments against net neutrality is that the order was a solution in search of a problem.  The internet has operated fine before the government decided it needed to be involved.  The order uses words such as “may”, “could”, “might”, and “potentially” instead of relying on strong evidence that companies were actually slowing down the speed of competitors and forcing them to pay.  The other big argument against net neutrality is that customers decide what products and services are successful.  If an ISP blocks Netflix because of the bandwidth it requires and Netflix isn’t willing to pay for a “fast lane”, customers who want Netflix will take their business elsewhere.

Argument for Net Neutrality:

The biggest argument for net neutrality is that ISPs deliberately hobble new services that represent a competitive threat to their own products.  Cable companies might want to slow down services such as Netflix that compete with their paid television service.  Having this be the case, small companies would be at a disadvantage because they can’t afford to keep up with the big companies.  Some of the biggest companies on the internet have come out in favor of strong net neutrality rules.  A group called the Internet Association representing Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and another 40 of the largest internet companies have met with the Chairman to express their desires for a set of strong net neutrality rules.

The debate over net neutrality isn’t going to end anytime soon, as these new regulations face challenges in the courts.  For the latest news and info on net neutrality come back to Tech Talk.