Frequently Asked Questions About Net Neutrality

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The debate over whether to keep the inter­net open by law is any­thing but neutral.

In a nut­shell, net neu­tral­i­ty means all web traf­fic should be treat­ed equal­ly. Gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions must not show favoritism. They can­not dis­crim­i­nate or charge dif­fer­ent­ly by user.

But con­tentious­ness over this has explod­ed in recent years. First some back­ground: In 2014, the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion received 3.7 mil­lion pub­lic com­ments to change the inter­net to a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice, allow­ing the agency to uphold net neu­tral­i­ty. In 2015, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion put the final rul­ing on this into effect, reclas­si­fy­ing broad­band access as a tele­com ser­vice and apply­ing it to all inter­net ser­vice providers (ISPs).

But lat­er in 2015, the U.S. Tele­com Asso­ci­a­tion chal­lenged the rule in a law­suit, argu­ing that FCC’s rebrand­ing of broad­band car­ri­ers was an over­reach of the agency’s author­i­ty. That suit sparked sub­se­quent chal­lenges by ISP, cable and tele­com com­pa­nies. In response, the U.S. Appeals Court of the Dis­trict of Colum­bia upheld the FCC’s ear­li­er net neu­tral­i­ty rules, say­ing access is a pub­lic util­i­ty, not a lux­u­ry. Indus­try lead­ers then said they would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, FCC Chair­man Ajit Pai began a process in April to revise and reverse the agency’s rules, allow­ing mar­ket forces to reg­u­late the internet.

To gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing of where net­work neu­tral­i­ty stands and the dis­cus­sions sur­round­ing it, here are a few things to consider:

What are the argu­ments in sup­port of net neutrality?

  • The inter­net should be viewed as a pub­lic ser­vice and a tool to pro­tect free speech. • An open, free inter­net plays a vital role in main­tain­ing human rights, pro­motes the spread of ideas, civic empow­er­ment and eco­nom­ic growth.
  • Monop­o­lies should be reg­u­lat­ed. Broad­band providers should not be allowed to thwart com­peti­tors by block­ing cer­tain inter­net appli­ca­tions and content.
  • An open, free inter­net pre­vents unfair pric­ing practices.
  • An open inter­net dri­ves entrepreneurship.

What are the argu­ments against net neutrality?

  • The gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions are bur­den­some and unnecessary.
  • The rules put a damper on invest­ment into broad­band improve­ments and innovation.
  • It sti­fles small busi­ness­es by impos­ing increased costs of compliance.
  • Under reg­u­la­tion by the FCC, it takes author­i­ty away from the FTC, which has his­tor­i­cal­ly guard­ed pri­va­cy rights.

How does net neu­tral­i­ty affect rur­al areas of the country?

Many rur­al broad­band com­pa­nies favor the move to quash net neu­tral­i­ty rules that they say make it hard­er for small com­mu­ni­ties to access the inter­net. They say reg­u­la­tions dis­in­cen­tivize ISPs from build­ing net­works in rur­al pock­ets where there is far less return on investment.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Ore­gon, chair­man of the House Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, says in rur­al areas, access to the inter­net is cru­cial, and can even be a mat­ter of life and death, and should be expanded.

I’ve got three coun­ties with no hos­pi­tals and no doc­tors,” he said. “Access for edu­ca­tion, access for tele-health, access for the econ­o­my and access to high-speed broad­band is essen­tial for their way of life in the mod­ern age. And to me, this is the same as say­ing they need access to water and pow­er and roads.”

To pro­tect these ser­vices, ISPs with few­er than 250,000 sub­scribers should be exempt from some gov­ern­ment require­ments, Walden says.

But oth­ers say net neu­tral­i­ty doesn’t threat­en rur­al com­mu­ni­ties. The need for broad­band in the Unit­ed States hasn’t been met and the mar­ket is too com­pet­i­tive for com­pa­nies not to invest. Also, new­er broad­band net­works aren’t like­ly to require as much out­lay of cap­i­tal as they once did.

What are the lat­est developments?

Research by data ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny Gravwell said 80 per­cent of the 22 mil­lion com­ments from a poll on net neu­tral­i­ty sub­mit­ted to the FCC came from bots. The com­ments, the major­i­ty of which opposed net neu­tral­i­ty, came in batch­es, and only 17.4 per­cent of the com­ments were unique. This indi­cates the com­ments were not sub­mit­ted by indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the pub­lic and casts skep­ti­cism on the find­ings of future polls.

The Sen­ate recent­ly gave Pai a new five-year term as FCC chair­man, retroac­tive to July 1, 2016.

In response, Fight for the Future, an inter­net free­dom advo­ca­cy group, is plac­ing bill­boards in the home states of the four Democ­rats who vot­ed to recon­firm Aji Pai as FCC chairman.

What’s next?

The three-month com­ment peri­od is closed. The FCC will go behind closed doors, make revi­sions, and put the final prod­uct to a vote, but there is no par­tic­u­lar time­frame for a deci­sion on net neutrality.

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