No matter where you stand, this is what you need to know about net neutrality

No matter where you stand, this is what you need to know about net neutrality

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and politics may be banned from the dinner table, but there’s one topic that needs to be discussed — the future of the internet.

You may have increasingly heard of the term Net Neutrality over the past few months. Maybe you rolled your eyes and clicked away, or maybe you thought it doesn’t affect your everyday life. Think again. If the Federal Communications Commission gets its way this December, the open internet we’ve come to know will disappear.

Here’s what Net Neutrality is, and what the FCC’s proposal means for it.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality means treating everything on the internet equally; it’s a guiding principle that preserves an open internet. You get the same connection speeds, as well as the same access to sites like YouTube and Netflix, with no preferential treatment shown to a specific service by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). That means Verizon or AT&T can’t block, or slow access to, a site because they don’t like its content, or because it competes with their services.

Strong guidelines were adopted by the FCC in 2015 when it reclassified broadband internet access service as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act, classifying ISPs as “common carriers.”  While the FCC did not enforce “utility-style regulations” like pricing regulations or network sharing requirements, it does place ISPs under close governmental oversight to prevent unfair internet practices.

net neutrality memes

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Major telecom and broadband companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast have strongly opposed this, saying the rules “undermined innovation and investment” — as Kathy Grillo, Verizon’s senior vice president and deputy general counsel, told Digital Trends.

AT&T says the rules created “regulatory uncertainty,” but reaffirmed that “all major ISPs have publicly committed to preserving an open internet, and the proposed transparency rules will require that all ISPs clearly and publicly articulate their internet practices.  Any ISP that is so foolish as to seek to engage in gatekeeping will be quickly and decisively called out.”

Technology companies, meanwhile, have largely come out in support of Net Neutrality rules, as have privacy watchdogs and public-interest groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Who is Ajit Pai, and why does the FCC want to remove these regulations?

Ajit Pai, the current chairman of the FCC, was appointed by President Donald Trump, and is a strong proponent of deregulation. On November 21, Chairman Pai laid out plans to repeal the Obama-era FCC net neutrality rules.

“In 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama,” Pai said. “On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet. That decision was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks, and deterred innovation.”

It’s all a part of Pai’s plan to have the federal government “stop micromanaging the internet.”

Pai’s proposal, which you can read here, will only require ISPs to be “transparent about their practices.” For example, a provider can slow down or block access to a streaming service like Spotify for any reason — as long as they notify you. It’s all a part of Pai’s plan to have the federal government “stop micromanaging the internet.”

Pai isn’t just looking for a repeal, though. The FCC will also tell state and local governments they cannot create laws regulating broadband service, or craft their own net neutrality laws similar to the 2015 FCC regulations.

“We conclude that regulation of broadband Internet access service should be governed principally by a uniform set of federal regulations, rather than by a patchwork of separate state and local requirements,” according to the proposal. “Allowing state and local governments to adopt their own separate requirements, which could impose far greater burdens than the federal regulatory regime, could significantly disrupt the balance we strike here.”

The proposal returns the mantle of protecting online privacy back to the Federal Trade Commission. Your online data and privacy has long been protected by the FTC, but the FCC’s 2015 reclassification of ISPs stripped the FTC from ensuring privacy and security practices.

In 2016, the FCC stepped up to protect consumer online privacy, proposing strong rules requiring ISPs to offer opt-in/opt-out options for selling customer data to third-party services, and requiring ISPs to be more transparent and notify customers in the events of data breaches, and more. Congress voted against these rules before they went into effect, so neither the FCC or FTC can create privacy rules for ISPs. Pai’s proposal to repeal the 2015 regulations would remove the Title II classification of ISPs as “common carriers,” returning the role back to the FTC.

How does this affect you?

Repealing the 2015 FCC regulations would make ISPs powerful gatekeepers of the internet. Critics of the repeal fear that ISPs will block services that compete with their own. For example, Comcast owns many media brands such as NBC and Universal. Without regulation, it could potentially block or slow services that offer its competitor’s TV shows, movies, and other content.

Paid Prioritization might also begin. ISPs may ask Google and Facebook to pay more money to have their sites and services load faster than others. This would chip away at their profits, and would be detrimental to smaller companies that can’t afford to pay ISPs to enter the “fast lane.”

Despite this, AT&T says it’s committed to offering an open internet. As we mentioned earlier, the company believes “any ISP that is so foolish as to seek to engage in gatekeeping will be quickly and decisively called out.” ISPs say they simply don’t want to be classified as “common carriers” under Title II, so they are not subjected to price regulation.

“At Verizon, we continue to strongly support net neutrality and the open internet,” Grillo told Digital Trends. “Our company operates in virtually every segment of the internet. We continue to believe that users should be able to access the internet when, where, and how they choose, and our customers will continue to do so.”

Charter echoed those sentiments in a report from Fierce Cable. “Charter has had a longstanding commitment to an open internet, which is why we don’t block, throttle or interfere with the lawful activities of our customers,” the company said.

Even Comcast jumped in to reassure customers. Comcast CEO Dave Watson said that “Comcast does not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content,” according to the Fierce Cable report.

Even if the companies uphold their promise, deregulation will give ISPs the power to decide. The fate of the open internet will be entirely dependent on the business decisions of large companies.

When is the vote?

The FCC will decide on Chairman Pai’s proposal on December 14. It’s expected to pass 3-2, with the two Republican commissioners siding with Pai, and the two Democratic commissioners rejecting it.

After initially announcing plans to repeal Net Neutrality regulations earlier this year, the FCC encouraged the public to voice their opinion on the issue by filing comments on the Commission’s website. 22 million people filed a response, with an overwhelming majority in favor of net neutrality. However, a senior FCC official said these comments didn’t have any bearing on the Commission’s decision unless they introduced serious legal arguments, according to The Verge.

Public-interest groups, privacy advocates, and technology companies are encouraging people to reach out to their representatives to voice support for Net Neutrality. Protests are slated to take place on December 7 outside Verizon stores across the country, largely because Big Red is Pai’s former employer. The protest is being organized by Fight For The Future, FreePress Action Fund, and Demand Progress.

Published at Wed, 22 Nov 2017 23:45:38 +0000

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