On April 18, across from Independence Avenue in the nation’s Capitol Building, the Federal Communications Commission voted to begin a process to eliminate Title II regulations resulting in an end to net neutrality and the open internet rules.
The FCC is an independent government agency, designed to regulate interstate communications by radio, satellite, television, wire and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Telecommunications carriers, such as Verizon, Comcast, Dish Network, Centurylink and AT&T, are currently regulated under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
Title II, passed in 2015, implements strict net neutrality rules, including prevention of website and app blocking, speed throttling, and paid fast lanes. In essence, this eliminated the ability of governments, media companies and internet service providers to charge different service fees based on the content being transmitted over the internet.
In early 2014, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to enforce existing rules preventing ISPs from favoring certain companies that send data over the internet. As a response, the FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, designed a new set of rules that allowed ISPs to charge for “priority access” to their networks, creating an “internet fast lane” for companies that pay for it.
With net neutrality, consumers have the freedom to access any online content for no extra charge, excluding what local governments may prohibit such as illegal file sharing. Advocates of this “open internet” oppose accelerated access options. A tiered system could give the ISPs an unfair advantage over companies who use the internet to deliver their services.
“The powerful interests that control the pipes are trying to take control of the internet away from their consumers by creating discriminatory networks that play favorites,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said at Powell’s Books in Portland, addressing local business owners, labor leaders, consumer advocates, and local members of the Open Internet Coalition who delivered more than 20,000 petitions from Oregon residents supporting net neutrality. “We can’t afford to let discrimination rule the internet, which is why I’ll continue fighting to ensure net neutrality.” Wyden was the first member of Congress to introduce legislation preserving net neutrality.
In support of an open marketplace, net neutrality backers desire to get the FCC to reclassify broadband internet as a telecommunications service. They want ISPs to follow the same non-discriminatory rules that govern phone companies. Supporters believe that an open internet promotes a free market, which provides an even playing field for all companies to compete for customers. Net neutrality supporters are also concerned about internet censorship and increased monitoring.
“When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission … “ Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, said to the Web Foundation’s team. “To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression.”
Opposers of net neutrality claim it limits their revenue potential and stifles innovation. They claim the freedom to purchase priority delivery from ISPs would act as a catalyst for innovation among all businesses. FCC Chairman Ajit V. Pai, has stated publically that he believes net neutrality offers no incentive for these companies to invest in advanced networks. Businesses need ISPs to continue investing in their broadband networks. Increased revenue from higher bandwidth services will allow ISPs to invest in broadband infrastructure to bring broadband to more customers. Doing away with net neutrality could allow the champions of the telecommunication world, including Verizon and Comcast, to charge content providers who want their products and services promoted. This should be a major benefit. The new revenue stream may result in free data plans for consumers.
With internet traffic increasing in recent years, largely because of the availability of streaming music and video services, the ISPs were not prepared for such a jump in bandwidth usage. Opponents of net neutrality believe that the revenue gained by higher-bandwidth services will allow ISPs to design more advanced networks equipped to handle increased bandwidth needs.
“Title II is not the appropriate regulatory mechanism to keep the internet free and open,” Rosa Mendoza, executive director of the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership was quoted on Comcast’s media relations page. “Instead, the focus should be on regulatory solutions that ensure access, innovation, investment and transparency and where services for consumers are not degraded or throttled and where they are protected.”
As for the other side of the coin, losing net neutrality means consumers might lose control of the internet. ISPs could determine exactly what consumers are able to view online. While utilizing email, scrolling through Facebook, or streaming shows on Netflix, users might have to pay more for such services if they are not aligned with the right ISPs. Users may be subjected to slower download speeds for legal services. Additionally, small businesses may not be able to afford the price tag for ISPs to promote their content. This could result in the loss of business for the less fortunate.
Others see this as an attempt to alter our constitutional rights.
“This is a major attempt for corporations to regain control over the means of distribution of all digital content and information,” Lane faculty instructor Jefferson Goolsby, said . “You may see a decrease in social justice matters, such as Black Lives Matters, environmental issues and other efforts to make social progress. Any under represented voices or any non-corporate/consumer voices will be muted or silenced.” Goolsby argues that this is about money, power, and social control by those currently in power. “It’s about squashing entrepreneurial opportunities across the economic spectrum. It’s about controlling the message.”
The FCC asked in a public forum what the consumers thought in regards to net neutrality. Over 3.7 million comments were recorded and revealed that less than one percent of polled consumers opposed it.
Looking forward, according to opponents of the ruling, users could be on a road to a sponsored internet, where the only things Comcast subscribers see, for example, is the information Comcast providers want them to see. Only larger companies who can afford to pay will have their content spread across the web, eliminating the competition of small business. “In all likelihood, the internet will gradually move from being a one-size-fits-all service to one where users or content companies can — or have to — pay more for better service or higher volumes of traffic,” writes Ryan Knutson of The Wall Street Journal.
The FCC may revisit the matter. There’s still a chance that net neutrality comes back into play.