Frequently Asked Questions About Net Neutrality
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.
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.