As you probably heard by now, the Federal Communications Commission recently approved new rules based on the principles of “net neutrality” that essentially finally put some sort of regulations over Internet usage. Some are calling it the “Equal Opportunity Act” for Internet speeds and access to websites.
But is this ultimately good or bad for the typical Internet user?
First of All, What Is Net Neutrality?
People banter the term “net neutrality” around like they understand what it means, but what the heck is it, really?
Net neutrality is the concept that your Internet provider should be a neutral gateway to everything that’s online. It shouldn’t act as a gatekeeper that decides to load some sites slower than others or try to extract fees for faster service.
Another way of looking at it is that net neutrality is a concept in which Internet service providers (ISPs) can’t discriminate when it comes to Internet traffic.
On February 26, the FCC voted 3 to 2 to adopt net neutrality rules to, as it declared in its announcement of the vote “protect the open Internet”.
Why Do We Need Net Neutrality?
So why should Internet users be concerned with net neutrality of the Internet? There’s plenty of great reasons.
First, without net neutrality, ISPs could, in theory, demand more money from companies like Hulu or Amazon to speed up traffic to their sites. Conversely, they could slow down traffic from sites that aren’t willing to pony up the extra cash.
Is this a big deal? Yes , it is. In fact, it’s a very big deal.
For example, during peak periods in the US about 30% of Internet traffic comes from a single service: Netflix. So let’s say your Internet provider is AT&T. They might tell Netflix, “We want you to pay us double what you pay now or else we are going to slow down your streaming speeds so that people watching ‘House of Cards’ will ditch it because it keeps dropping in the middle of President Frank Underwood’s best scenes.”
Or AT&T could cut a deal with Amazon making them their prime video service and speeding up their delivery to their customers at the expense of slowing down Hulu or Netflix.
At the FCC did was to get rid of all those scenarios and create a more level playing field for everybody.
So What Did the FCC Do, Again?
Technically, what the FCC did was vote to reclassify broadband access as a “telecommunications service under Title II”.
In English, what that means is that the FCC made broadband a utility, which in turn gives the FCC a lot more regulatory power over Internet providers.
This all began back in 2010, when the FCC actually passed rules that made the Internet neutral. But in January 2014, Verizon filed a lawsuit claiming that the federal agency didn’t have the authority to make such a declaration. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit agreed with Verizon, but added that the FCC could reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. That way it would have the authority.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler did just that. And when Republicans in Congress recently dropped their opposition to the new rules – because the Democrats wouldn’t support it and they didn’t want to be the only ones left twisting in the wind – the stage was set for the FCC’s historic vote.
What Does This Mean for Me?
The FCC’s vote will ban three basic things:
1. Blocking – Broadband providers can’t block access to legal content, apps, services or non-harmful devices.
2. Throttling – Broadband providers can’s impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, apps, services or non-harmful devices.
3. Prioritization – Broadband providers can’t favor some lawful traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration. The rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.
This is a big, bold move by the FCC and the consequences for Internet users probably will be felt for years to come.