Net Neutrality: A Battle For Open Internet

The Federal Communications Commission has re-opened the net neutrality debate with its proposal to undo the 2015 Open Internet Order that classified the internet as a utility with Title II classification. The Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai is spearheading the campaign to reclassify internet providers as Title I information services and dismantle net neutrality rules that enforce a free and open internet like no blocking or throttling of apps and websites. After engaging in four months of debate, the FCC stopped accepting feedback and comments on Wednesday, August 30th, which it will now review and use as guidance to revise its proposal—a striking blow to the internet’s core values.

What Does Net Neutrality Mean?

Net neutrality, also commonly spoken of as ‘network neutrality,’ is the idea that internet service providers and governments must treat all data on the internet as equal so that it is a level playing field for newcomers and established giants alike. The Internet is a free and open platform, and internet service providers cannot leverage its control over the network to discriminate or provide priority service by user, content, site, platform, services, application or medium of communication. All this boils down to is consumers pay for access to the entire internet without any paid prioritization, throttling, and blocking. For example, AT&T cannot put any restrictions on users that stop them from streaming movies from Netflix, or slow down speeds, or force Netflix to pay up for preferential treatment.

Why Does The FCC Want A Rollback On Net Neutrality?

Under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, internet service providers, such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Charter, T-Mobile, and Sprint, are grouped as ‘common carriers’ and therefore regulated with tough, utility-style restrictions. Theoretically, it allows the government to regulate how much an ISP can charge you even though pricing regulations have never been applied. Internet providers have been subject to careful oversight.

The common argument put forward by Pai and other conservatives and ISPs in opposition of the 2015 Open Internet Order is that it discourages investment. Title Title II supposedly gives FCC power to put heavy burdens on ISPs and the additional regulations create unnecessary administrative costs as service providers navigate through red tape. The stringent regulations on ISPs have supposedly resulted in a decline in broadband investment throughout the country. It has been a little under two years since the Open Internet Order went into effect and it is way too soon to define an exact trend. Moreover this claim remains disputed as most broadband providers, with the exception of Sprint, haven’t stopped spending because of the existing Open Internet Order. But according to Pai, repealing the 2015 Open Internet Order will supposedly restore broadband investment back to its previous upward path and bridge the digital divide between areas with abundant broadband and those without it.

The Case Against Dismantling Current Net Neutrality Laws

Net-neutrality advocates stress that FCC needs to be the cop on the beat to enforce any meaningful regulation, especially considering there are only a handful of major ISPs in the US and the prohibitive costs required for anyone to join them. According to the FCC’s latest Internet Access Services report, only 24% of developed housing areas had options between two broadband providers with sufficiently high-speed wired internet to choose from. Where there is more competition, you may need less regulation as the market bears it out. But in an environment where that competition is missing there is a need for careful oversight to protect the consumer from abuse.

The Internet Association, representing more than 40 top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, and Netflix, oppose any changes to the current FCC net neutrality rules because they are working fine and offering consumer much needed protections.

As a user your gateway to the internet should not be limited by your budget or what your ISPs have been paid to prioritize. When internet providers have the ability to control the websites you visit and make choices about content for you, it will tip the scales in favor of their own services and the services of the strongest players who can pay for access. You should be free to make your choice between Google or Bing, YouTube or Vimeo, Netflix or Amazon Prime. Changing regulations so that a small subset of uncompetitive broadband providers get full control over your internet access or the power to block some sites, throttle the speed for others, and charge you exorbitant rates goes against the very founding principle that internet is based on- dissemination of unfiltered information..

Since 2005, FCC has made three attempts to implement net neutrality rules, two reversals, and a lot of conflict between interest groups and think tanks on all sides of the issue. The internet is absolutely vital for our society and economy so it is absolutely detrimental to allow this type of conflict and regulatory game of ping-pong to continue. It may be time for Congress to enact a permanent law to guide internet regulations and ensure a level playing field.

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