December 7, 2017

With Net Neutrality on Potential Death Watch, Now is a Good Time to Ask: What is Net Neutrality?

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In the last year, with the Trump Administration’s various immigration bans, attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare and now overhaul the tax code, the so-called “net neutrality” issue may have flown under the digital radar for many. But a key vote by the FCC—which may occur as early as mid-December—could seriously impact businesses and consumers alike with respect to any and all Internet content they consume. The Basics of Net Neutrality in the Obama Era: In 2015, the Obama administration issued an order reclassifying Internet service providers as if they were utilities. This means that all data on the Internet must be treated the same—and Internet companies cannot charge more money to consumers based on content, website, user, application, method of communication, amount of data used, or any other component or aspect of the web. It also means that corporations like Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable cannot block or slow Internet content for any reason. This is what experts mean when they say “net neutrality.” Is it Legal? In June 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules as a valid exercise of FCC’s authority under Title II of the Communications Act as well as Section 706. The Coming FCC Vote: However, President Trump’s FCC chairman, Republican Ajit Pai, has now announced that the FCC will hold a vote next month on whether to reverse the Obama administration’s net neutrality order. The vote will likely occur on December 14, 2017. What Will This Mean? Internet companies such as Comcast and Verizon see the end of net neutrality as a boom to business: ending the Obama-era order would lead to billions of dollars in investment and revenue in broadband and Internet services. But advocates of net neutrality see the end of the Obama order as a “barter[ing] off to the highest bidders of a billionaire class that dominates the political debate on so many other media platforms.” Where you fall on the issue likely depends on how you view the Internet. Is Internet access a public good, like the Postal Service, which delivers affordable mail services to everyone, rich or poor? Or is the Internet a commodity like any other, subject to supply and demand and other free economy ideals? Do corporations have the right to control how fast or slow any given website loads? Or should all data be equal? These issues will likely be decided by all three branches of government in the coming years, starting with the important FCC vote set to occur in December. And if you wish to have your voice heard, the FCC is currently seeking comments on the issue of net neutrality and what the FCC describes as an “open Internet.” You can simply to go this web link and send an email to the FCC via the email address provided in the link.