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Net Neutrality Is In Danger

By:Christine Fettinger

Net Neutrality Is In Danger

Net neutrality protections are currently under fire again. Below is some key information that will get you up to speed on what’s happening.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all lawful traffic on the internet should be treated equally.

What is currently happening with net neutrality?

The FCC passed an initial vote on May 18th to strip the 2015 Open Internet Order, which are basically the existing regulations that govern net neutrality. The FCC will be open to comments and public input on this until August 16th with a final vote held later this year.

What is the Open Internet Order?

This Obama-era order, enacted in 2015, was meant to regulate ISPs and wireless providers under the premise that the internet is a basic telecommunication service as opposed to an ‘information service’ provider. This new classification put broadband providers under Title II regulations as common carriers, so they must follow stricter rules to prove they are operating in the public interest – similar to utilities. Before this order, there were no clear legal restrictions against practices impeding net neutrality.

The FCC plans to roll back broadband providers’ Title II status. Without Title II, the FCC will not have the authority to enforce most of the rules imposed by the Open Internet Order. Broadband providers will be classed as ‘information service’ providers, which have far less regulation.

What are the FCC’s reasons for rolling back net neutrality protections?

Ajit Pai’s (Chairman of the FCC) basic argument is that the Open Internet Order’s rules are too onerous, and have stifled innovation and investment in broadband infrastructure. Pai asserts he has data that suggests companies are spending less money building and maintaining their broadband networks because of their Title II status. He also has a number of declarations from wireless ISPs that they held back on investment because of Title II.

However, the investment numbers seem to fluctuate on a company to company basis with no obvious trends either way. In fact, a US Census figure found that investments by wired, mobile, and satellite telecommunications carriers went up slightly from 2014 to 2015.

What will happen if Obama-era net neutrality protections are overturned?

The short answer is that we don’t know exactly. The 2015 net neutrality protections ban Internet service providers from blocking, slowing down, or otherwise discriminating against lawful content. If those protections are overturned, there would be no laws stopping broadband providers from slowing down connections to competitors’ sites or creating ‘Internet fast lanes’ for companies that pay for it. Net neutrality also allows you to use any devices you want on your home network. If the net neutrality protections are overturned, broadband providers could hypothetically let traffic flow faster to one brand of phone, computer, or IoT device over another.

That does not mean broadband providers will do these things, just that there will no longer be any enforceable government regulations stopping them from it. Most big Internet providers, including Verizon and Comcast, say they support the principle of net neutrality. However, let’s keep in mind that Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have all previously had net neutrality violations.

If there were proper competition among ISP providers, this would not be as much of a problem. If a broadband provider chose to throttle Netflix in favor of their own streaming service, you could take your business elsewhere. The market would naturally tamp down on this kind of behavior, but switching providers is not an option for people in many areas of the country. As of 2015, only 24% of developed areas in America had at least two ISPs that offered official broadband speeds.

For more tech news, be sure to check out the CyberStreams blog.