So you’ve heard that on June 12 a Federal court denied claims made against the Federal Communication Commission’s net-neutrality, issuing the first step in rolling out the Open Internet Laws and you couldn’t contain your excitement, right? As media nerds we were pretty excited that the FCC was successful in establishing the Internet as a public utility that should be regulated as such. Still trying to make sense of these regulations? Here is everything you need to know about how net-neutrality will impact the rest of us.
- How has the ruling changed?On June 12 the FCC won legal rights to assert extra authority over the Internet to establish net neutrality. “This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators!” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open.” The Federal Communication Commission and its supporters have established that net neutrality is “a necessary check on excessive corporate power, protecting consumers from abusive pricing schemes and data discrimination.”
- What exactly is net neutrality?Also referred to as Open Internet interchangeably, net neutrality is like equaling the playing field for Internet speeds and giving consumers un-discriminated access to websites: “no unfair fast or slow lanes, and no blocking of anything that’s legal on your phone, computer or tablet.” This doesn’t mean everyone gets the same level of Internet service —as consumers we pay for different speeds. It does however conclude that key accounts like HBO can’t pay an unregulated amount to networks to provide faster Internet for their
- Doesn’t that already exist now? The majority of the time, yes, ISPs negotiations with networks are monitored and dealt with accordingly. In theory nothing should change except the legal interpretation of the ISP’s behavior. Unfortunately, the world as we know it won’t look much different. HBO Go won’t suddenly stream any faster for us. The FCC has just started the process and will have many more uphill battles trying to thwart the discrimination of network providers. You may remember last fall Marriott came under fire for blocking mifi signals and other personal hotspots in their hotels, common areas and convention areas. Similarly, your cable company carrier is now federally regulated to not slow the delivery of a show just because it’s affiliated with a company that competes with a subsidiary of theirs.
- Who is in support of net neutrality? Virtually every major Internet company including Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, Vimeo, etc. are in favor of the Open Internet laws. As websites that create the content we read and watch online, they are opposed to a system where network owners could threaten to charge higher fees or slow their sites down.
- Who is opposing it?Big provider companies like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and other Internet service providers (ISPs) don’t want additional regulations. Previous FCC rules had fewer price controls, which companies like Comcast see the Open Internet laws as a potential threat to investments and selling cable subscriptions. Why would anyone pay for cable subscriptions when their shows are becoming easily accessible via the Internet? By leveling the playing field for all ISPs, the Commission is limiting yet another avenue of potential revenue for these big name players.
- What did the vote look like? “The commission voted 3 to 2 to approve Wheeler’s net neutrality proposal. Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voted yes, along with Wheeler, who was appointed by President Obama. Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, both Republicans, voted no.”
- Is net neutrality here to stay?Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The recent ruling only decided that the FCC laws are valuable, and require a more detailed review. The aforementioned consortium of telecom companies, including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, have been suing the government, calling on them to overturn the FCC’s new rules. A more complete hearing is scheduled for later this year, during which a judge could decide to strike down the net neutrality rules. Meanwhile Republicans in Congress are also fighting against net neutrality in an effort to combine language with the crucial spending bill. Burying net neutrality will likely be difficult in the Senate, as President Obama has already made his support of net neutrality clear, and is likely to veto any legislation that overturns the FCC’s rules.
Food for thought: Is the government trying to control the Internet by supporting the FCC’s net-neutrality laws?
Meghan Riley, Graduate Student
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland