The Reversal of Net Neutrality and What It Means To You

What is net neutrality, why are we reversing it, and what does that even mean?

Net neutrality. The term has become something of a household one, and not necessarily for the best of reasons. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers must treat all data on the internet the same, or equally. That ideally means that the service providers would not be able to discriminate against certain content, nor charge different rates depending on a certain website, platform, application, user, type of software, or method of communication.

More specifically, the rules put in place for net neutrality included:

  • Blocking: Internet providers could not discriminate against lawful content by means of blocking certain websites or apps to users
  • Throttling: Assuming that all content included is/was legal, service providers could not slow data transmission based on the nature of the content
  • Paid prioritization: Service providers could not create an internet “fast lane” for companies and consumers who pay premiums, and a “slow lane” for those who don’t

With something that seems so morally adept, you may be wondering why we pointed out that net neutrality hasn’t become familiar for the best of reasons. The problem is that there have been many issues related with the maintenance of net neutrality.

The issue with net neutrality

We all agree that the internet should be free and open to use, without any loopholes or trapdoors, right? Right. Well, how’s that achievable? That’s the problem. The regulations above should solve everything, but with an endless inter-web filled with tons of content, more and more being added by the minute, regulation was, well, hard.

The original rules mentioned above first went into effect in 2015, laying forth a regulatory plan that addressed the rapidly changing internet. The regulations gave the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broad power over internet providers.

The FCC classified internet access as a public utility that should be equally available to all users. President Obama is quoted telling the FCC, “For most Americans, the internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”

In short, net neutrality was the internet’s guiding principle. It was designed to give rules that ensured equal and fair access to web content.

Since then, the FCC announced a vote for the reversal and repeal of net neutrality regulations, declaring to put the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in charge of overseeing the internet.

Some issues have since happened. Among others, they include:

  • The concern over internet service providers would favor their own private protocols over others
  • Peering: Voluntary interconnection of administratively separate networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the users of each network
  • Companies argues that net neutrality regulation give the FCC too much control over their business, and that the regulations make it hard to expand their networks

The reversal of net neutrality

This past December (2017), under Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC voted on the fate of net neutrality. The conclusion was a decision for the reversal of the net neutrality rules. So let’s take a look at what exactly that means.

In the internet service provider sector, the reversal of net neutrality will present the opportunity for more investment and more competition. This was a big influence for the FCC to overturn net neutrality altogether. In fact, Pai says the idea of the FCC regulating internet companies on how they do business is something he couldn’t imagine getting on board with (he even fought against net neutrality in 2015, when it was put in place by former Chairman Tom Wheeler.

This sounds promising for business purposes, but without net neutrality, large internet providers – such as AT&T, Verizon, Optimum (Comcast Xfinity), etc. – along with mega content creators – like Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Apple – can show favoritism to their own business interests. This means several things for everyday internet users. In the broad scheme of things, the reversal of net neutrality will affect everything from internet speed to overall internet access. While the repeal is good news for large telecommunication and internet companies, it most likely means higher prices, slower speeds, and fewer choices for consumers.

So, like, will I still be able to watch Netflix?

In theory, the only thing that changed with the implementation of net neutrality regulation is that there were actual regulations on the books that prohibited providers from discriminating against content and the delivery of that content on a user-by-user basis. An internet service provider was prohibited from slowing the delivery of, say, a television show simply because it was streamed by a video company that competed with a subsidiary of the aforementioned provider. That did not mean everyone would get the same level of Internet service — remember, customers already pay for different speeds.

In short: You will still be able to watch Netflix.

What’s next?

In order to ensure that internet service providers don’t take advantage of users, Pai said the FCC would still require them to “be transparent about their practices.” However, FTC officials say that providers will allegedly be able to change their terms and services regarding nondiscrimination on their networks without violating the FTC “so long as they provide clear notice of changes.”

“If these disclosures are truthful, there is no deception for the FTC to police.”

FTC officials also say since 58 percent of households have only one option for a broadband internet provider, neither the FTC nor competition would not force ISPs to “offer consumers better contract terms or quality of service or limit discriminatory conduct.”

In February, tech companies like Alphabet and Facebook Inc supported a congressional bid to reverse the Trump administration’s plan to repeal Obama-era rules designed to protect an open internet.

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