Why Did They Kill Net Neutrality
On June 11th, 2018 the new rules adopted by the FCC abolished net neutrality. While those who are aware of what it is regarded the decision as the death of the free internet, many people actually have no idea of what net neutrality is all about, notwithstanding John Oliver’s truly Herculean effort.
In a few words, net neutrality is a broad principle stipulating that internet service providers (ISPs) such as Verizon or AT&T and governments should treat all data equally. According to this principle, ISPs have no right to block, slow or charge additional fees for accessing specific websites or content, even if they want to. In a nutshell, one piece of information isn’t more important than any other, regardless of its type or source.
So, why did they want to get rid of this principle so bad, and why did they do it after all?
Net Neutrality vs Internet Freedom
On February 26th, 2015 the U.S. FCC adopted the Open Internet Order aimed at implementing and enforcing solid net neutrality rules: ISPs were prohibited to intentionally restrict access to certain websites, establish private fast lines and throttle the speed of the internet connection to certain websites like Netflix.
The order also reclassified internet service providers’ offerings as telecommunications services under Title II of the Communications Act, and that, in turn, gave authorities the real power and tools to enforce the rules. This caused a storm of controversy between net neutrality supporters and libertarians, who have been unsurprisingly against any governmental regulation of the internet.
On December 14th, 2017 the FCC voted to enforce the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) which also reverses Title II rules. On June 11th, 2018 the new regulations came into force, allowing ISPs to block content, websites or services and throttle connection. It sounds good for businesses: now companies are able to pay the internet providers to make their content more prioritized as it was prior to the Open Internet Order adoption.
As of now, all internet services offerings fall into the Title I of the Communications Act regulation. It means regulators have no right to regulate the internet anymore.
New rules seek to make the web free from unpleasant strict regulation, providing more competition in the internet service provider market. The RIFO require ISPs to disclose their Network practices to consumers. It assumes that consumers will be able to influence the ISPs, creating sort of democratic way to control service providers. Also, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received full powers to take action against them in case ISPs engaged in unfair competition or other deceptive practices. As confusing as it probably is, the question is actually about whether this new order bad or good for the internet?
Authorities and Community React
The current FCC Chairman and the former lawyer for Verizon, Ajit Pai said that “rules will ensure that we have a free and open internet, and Americans will have access to better, faster, and cheaper broadband.”
Mr. Pai also told his opinion on regulating the internet in general:
“The internet (…) allowed companies like Netflix, Facebook, Amazon and Google to go from small startups to global tech giants. That’s because the Clinton administration and Congress made a critical decision back in 1996, when the internet was commercialized. They weren’t going to subject this new thing called the internet to heavy-handed utility style regulations that were developed in 1934. The results speak for themselves. America’s internet economy became the envy of the world that light-touch market-based approach served us well for almost two decades. So, the 2015 decision to impose these heavy-handed regulations was a mistake.”
On second thought, he might be right and the decision to make everything “as it was in the beginning” looks even good for supporters of the free unregulated internet. In this case, the concept that the internet should not be regulated had been fully implemented, giving the market a free hand to make decisions based on market conditions and fair competition.
In turn, net neutrality advocates stated that everyone should fight against the new rules and restore the Open Internet Order. For example, Senator Ed Markey tweeted:
The American people know they cannot trust their internet service providers to do the right thing and protect a free and open internet. That’s why we need strict #NetNeutrality rules in place.#SaveTheInternet
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) June 11, 2018
The senator isn’t alone in his thoughts. Since the FCC voted to change the regulation, approximately 30 states have decided to protect net neutrality. Several states like Vermont and Hawaii issued special executive orders to protect net neutrality there in February 2018, even though the FCC prohibited to do so.
In March, the State of Washington adopted the law which is quite similar to the 2015 rules. The similar legislation was enrolled by Oregon in April. California also passed a bill regarding net neutrality on May 30, 2018. Notably, that bill was amended on June 11th, when the RIFO came into force.
Regular internet users also have no strong opinions in this regard. Some of them blame the Democrats for trying to regulate everything, even the cyberspace. Others think that it will lead to unfair competition between ISPs and other companies and serious inconveniences in using the network.
So, the current situation is two-fold. On the one hand, the FCC wants the internet to be self-regulated without any governmental interference. On the other hand, net neutrality provides all users with fair and equal access to the web content, protecting them from possible dishonesty of ISPs. The soft regulations, authorizing ISPs to do whatever they want might be bad for consumers as big players always see their needs as more important.
However, considering the lawmakers’ reaction and the recently passed legislation, net neutrality is being more important compared to so-called “internet freedom”, where any ISP is able to dictate their own terms and conditions for the internet connection and websites access.
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