The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to regulate the internet as a public utility earlier this week on February 26th, 2015.
Needless to say, the internet rejoiced. From trending on Twitter and Facebook to the 21 million results I get from Googling the phrase, after months of fighting the good fight, the FCC classified the internet as a public service utility, free from certain restrictions imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
If you’re not up to date on the debate surrounding net neutrality, I highly recommend this 3-minute video explaining both sides of the issue by Vlogbrother Hank Green.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality, also referred to as Open Internet under the FCC’s “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” rule, conceivably prevents broadband providers from imposing content-based restrictions on content hosts/creators. Essentially, ISPs such as Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner previously leveraged their access to high broadband speeds, forcing internet companies such as Netflix and Amazon to pay ISPs more money for their streaming speeds to retain customers.
Without net neutrality, these ISPs can slow down or speed up web-based content dependent upon the highest bidder (paid prioritization). Under this week’s decision, with net neutrality, the internet is considered a public utility, like electricity or water utilities, defined under Title II of the Communications Act. This means that the FCC has authority to regulate the internet and impose basic rules with regard to bandwidth provision and content-based restrictions.
Why don’t some people/companies like net neutrality?
Well, ISPs are understandably against more FCC regulation. From their perspective, paid prioritization makes sense. Those website companies which desire faster internet speeds (e.g. Netflix’s video streaming) require more bandwidth than others, so why shouldn’t ISPs charge those companies more for services rendered instead of passing those costs on to the ISPs’ customers? With greater federal regulation comes greater restrictions, which doesn’t sound great for the ISPs.
The FCC is obligated to open up their legislative rules to a notice and comment period, during which the Commission gives the public at least 30 days to comment on the proposed rule before the Commission comes to a final decision.
Last January, in response to the Verizon v. FCC case in which Verizon won a suit against the FCC which attempted to regulate ISPs, the FCC proposed the “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” notice, accompanied by an extended four-month public comment period, during which thousands of comments rolled in to the FCC’s website, at one point crashing the site’s server.
During the comment period, various websites and pundits motivated members of the public to submit comments on the proposed rule. Most notably, John Oliver’s segment on Last Week Tonight discussing the issue of net neutrality generated thousands of comments (45,000 approximately) alone.
The public’s voices were heard loud and clear.
Although the vote fell along party lines, the majority decision calls for a ban on the blocking of legal content, no content-based throttling of speed, and no paid prioritization of one lawful traffic over another by ISPs.
So rest assured, Internet, as we scroll onward into the future.
Enjoy that terribly tacky dress meme (#TeamBlackandBlue), this week’s House of Cards premiere, and our corner of the web here at Nerdophiles with the satisfaction that the internet will remain open for all.