What is Net Neutrality?


Mackenzie Luby, Contributor

On Dec. 14, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to revoke a 2015 ruling that ensured equal treatment of all internet traffic which is more commonly referred to as ‘Net Neutrality.’

This vote has been the topic of much debate, however, many still don’t know exactly what Net Neutrality is.

Net Neutrality was a set of protections enacted during the Obama administration that ensured that all web-traffic was treated equally by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This means that ISPs cannot intentionally slow down or restrict traffic to a particular website and force their customers to pay to unlock these services. Further making it illegal for ISPs to micromanage the internet.

A study conducted by Maplight shows that the three largest telecommunications providers (Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast) collectively spent $572 million in an attempt to lobby the FCC to exercise their authority to revoke Net Neutrality.

This prompts the question of what an internet without net neutrality would look like. The closest example would not be unlike a video game in which you have to pay a fee to advance to another level or pay for expansions that make your gaming experience more fun. This is an excellent business model for ISPs to increase their profits. However, this does not bode well for the average consumer. In fact, over 76% of Americans surveyed in a poll conducted by Mozilla claimed they supported Net Neutrality.

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, was interviewed on PBS by William Brangham to defend his positions on Net Neutrality. His primary point stems from a series of regulations collectively called ‘Title Two’ which are a series of financial regulations that restrict ISPs from charging fees on certain actions. Pai has claimed that his primary concern is, ” … That, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on Internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income, urban and rural areas, for example. ”

Pai genuinely believes that the revocation of Title II will allow for a fatser, freer and more open internet. However, outside of the United States there are examples of ISPs practicing exactly what Pai claims to be against. In Canada, ISPs have reportedly blocked several online services inclusing Google Wallet, Skype, and even the website of the Canadian Labor Party.

Ultimately, this FCC vote means little, as congress must still vote on the provisions. This makes the FCC’s decision unlikely to be implemented as much of congress has voiced opposition to the elimination of Title II protections.

Net Neutrality is an important part of maintaining a free and open internet. It is Net Neutrality that makes for the wealth of information we know and love.