January 15th, 2018
On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted to repeal the relatively new network (net) neutrality laws, and ever since there has been an overwhelming desire to know what exactly is going to happen next. Yet, in order to fully understand and prepare for the new future of the internet, we must first know what exactly net neutrality is and how it impacts our everyday use of the World Wide Web.
What is Net Neutrality?
To put it simply, net neutrality is the complete and total freedom of the internet. Under net neutrality, internet service providers (ISPs) are unable to block, charge money for, or slow down connections to any websites or content. Net neutrality was first administered in 2015 during Obama’s second term and resulted in the reclassification of the internet as a common carrier telecommunications service (or more simply, a public utility, like water or electricity), whereas prior to this it was considered an information service.
Why Repeal Net Neutrality?
Ajit Pai, the current FCC Chairman and long-time opposer of net neutrality, claimed that these regulations are stunting innovation and based on “hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom.” Pai believed that these regulations put in place under Title II (the section of The Communications Act of 1964 that deals with common carriers, i.e., any company or person that transports goods to other companies or people) were not administered in order to fix a pressing issue, but were instead imposed only to give the Federal Government control of the internet, something they had apparently longed for for years.
Many internet providers were on board with the repeal of net neutrality, coming out with statements of how the strict regulations prevented them from expanding their services. According to the FCC, one unnamed yet allegedly major ISP decided not to start building an out-of-home wifi network due to the uncertainty over what was allowed and what was not.
The FCC’s website also stated that, “Following the adoption of the Obama Administration’s 2015 heavy-handed Internet regulations, broadband investment has fallen for two years in a row—the first time that’s happened outside of a recession in the Internet era.
If you consult the figure below, you will see that that is, in fact, true.
What Happens Now?
Now that net neutrality has been repealed, it is once again legal for ISPs to charge more for certain content or throttle connections to website that don’t benefit the company itself. The FCC has stepped forward and stated that “any internet service provider would be required to publicly disclose this practice and would face fierce consumer backlash as well as scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, which will have renewed authority to police unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.”
It also, however, assured the general public that “this didn’t happen before the Obama Administration’s 2015 heavy-handed Internet regulations, and it won’t happen after they are repealed,” when in actuality there have been several recorded attempts. See the following list for examples:
- Comcast throttled uploads from peer-to-peer file sharing applications and did not stop until the Federal Communications Commission ordered them to stop.
- In 2004, The Madison River Communications company restricted customers’ access to Vonage (which rivaled their own service) and was fined $15,000 as a punishment.
- AT&T limited access to FaceTime so only users who paid more would have access to the app.
- In July 2017, Verizon Wireless users noticed that videos on Netflix and YouTube were loading slower than usual and accused the company of throttling. These claims were met with the explanation that they were testing the network, which was protected under the net neutrality rules.
We can only hope that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will, in fact, step up and have the authority to “police unfair practices” like the FCC claims it will, unless, of course Congress decides to overturn the repeal. Under the terms of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Congress has 60 legislative days (days where Congress is in session, as opposed to regular calendar days) to review any new federal regulations, net neutrality being one of them. The deadline for this decision is just under a month away, falling on February 12.
Want to Learn More?
You can watch the full debate here, and see the list of “myths and facts” for yourself here. Take everything you hear from the FCC’s website (or campaign, for that matter) with a grain of salt, however. Closer inspection has revealed that many opinions and political statements have been slipped in under the guise of being a fact, so it would be a good idea to consult more than one source before you believe anything.