Net Neutrality: What It Means and Why It Matters

Photo: Boing Boing

This Tuesday, it was revealed that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to strip down regulations known as “Net Neutrality”. Most software companies oppose the FCC’s recent moves.

What exactly is Net Neutrality?

Although net neutrality effects any person who uses the internet, it isn’t really a commonly known thing. Net neutrality consist of a set of regulations set by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that ensure equal access to the internet.

To dig a little deeper, the net neutrality regulations classify boradband access as a telecommunications service. This means that internet is to “common carrier” provisions that prohibit service providers from discriminating against how it is used. The regulations were passed in February 2015 by the FCC.

Ajit Pai’s Position on the Issue

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, says he supports an “open Internet.” Pai believes that less regulation in this area is more beneficial to market growth. The Internet is “the greatest free-market success story in history,” Pai wrote in a Wall Street Journal. Regulations “designed in the 1930s to tame the Ma Bell telephone monopoly” are hurting investment, he argued. In short, Pai’s view is that broadband shouldn’t be regulated like a utility.

Photo: The Verge

Opposing Agrugements

Proponents say Pai is merely clearing the way for Internet service companies to charge users more to see certain content. They also say that Pai is trying to curb access to some websites, creating a “fast lane” and “slow lane” for the Internet.

Technology companies like Airbnb, Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Snap, Spotify and more have made their disagreement with Pai’s position known.

The move “will create significant uncertainty in the market and upset the careful balance that has led to the current virtuous circle of innovation in the broadband ecosystem,” a group representing many of the companies argued.

Technology Companies Speak

“The Internet should be competitive and open,” Google said in an early statement on the issue. “That means no Internet access provider should block or degrade Internet traffic, nor should they sell ‘fast lanes’ that prioritize particular Internet services over others. These rules should apply regardless of whether you’re accessing the Internet using a cable connection, a wireless service, or any other technology.”

“We are disappointed that the proposal announced today by the FCC fails to maintain the strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the Internet remains open for everyone,” Facebook said. “We will work with all stakeholders committed to this principle.”

Telecommunications Companies Stance

Companies like AT&T and Verizon support the FCC’s move to rescind reclassification of broadband. In September, a group representing AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, and other telecom companies formally petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn net neutrality rules.

“The FCC is not talking about killing the net neutrality rules,” said Verizon general counsel Craig Sillman in a video explaining the company’s position. “In fact not we nor any other ISP are asking them to kill the open Internet rules. All they’re doing is looking to put the open Internet rules in an enforceable way on a different legal footing.”

That view is shared by other telecom companies. Charter, which acquired Time Warner Cable in 2016, said it would “not block or throttle Internet traffic or engage in paid prioritization” at the time of that deal. And Comcast says it supports net neutrality even as it rejects the FCC’s 2015 reclassification of broadband as a common carrier service.

“We have stated on numerous occasions that we believe legally enforceable rules should continue to include strong transparency, no blocking, and anti-discrimination provisions,” the Philadelphia company said in a statement. “We don’t prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and have no plans to do so.”

In the end, it’s a political issue.

Did you notice any simularities in the statements made by Google and Comcast? Both companies say they reject blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization for Internet users. The disagreement is over how to enforce it. Should the FCC regulate broadband Internet, or leave market players to do it? Are existing common carrier provisions the best way forward, or is new and different regulation the answer? It’s as political a battle as it gets.

The FCC plans to vote on the issue Dec. 14.

Add Comment