What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality has been defined as the principle that ISPs* and governments must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment or method of communication. Which means, for example, that ISPs are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.
*An ISP is an Internet Service Provider, which is the organization that provides services accessing the Internet, and other services including website construction and hosting. So, every time that you connect to the Internet, your connection is through an ISP. Examples of ISPs include SVI, Comcast, Charter, Frontier, Xfinity and AT&T. Your ISP is the company you pay a monthly fee to in order to connect to the Internet, get email, go online, cruise Amazon, etc. You pay a monthly fee to your ISP to access all the wonderment that the Internet has to offer!
So, based upon Net Neutrality principles, your ISP could not restrict your access to content (the stuff you want to see), slow it down or charge money for any specific content that you want to see.
This is not related to paid advertising (we are all familiar with those popups).
A “free” Internet does not mean we get online for free (our fees to the ISP are what we pay to get onto the Internet), but it means that we have free access to all the content that is online, once we are there. It makes more sense to use the word “open” Internet.
A Little History on Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality has been an issue of contention since the 1990s. Between 2005 and 2012 corporations supporting both sides of the issue lobbied Congress, and there were five attempts to pass bills which failed. Each bill attempted to prohibit ISPs from implementing variable pricing based on quality of service, AKA “tiered service” and “price discrimination”.
On to more recent times (a little more history):
May 2014: the FCC* considered two options: One permitting fast and slow broadband** lanes (compromising net neutrality) and one reclassifying broadband as a telecommunication service (like telephone service), thus preserving net neutrality.
November 2014: President Obama recommends that the FCC reclassify broadband internet service as a telecommunications service (preserving net neutrality).
January 2015: Republicans presented a US House of Representatives discussion draft bill making concessions to net neutrality, but designed to prohibit the FCC from further regulating ISPs.
February 2015: The FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality, reclassifying broadband as a common carrier under Title II. It was previously classified under Title I as an information service.
April 2015: The FCC published the final rule on its new net neutrality regulations.
June 2015: These rules went into effect.
*The FCC is the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency of the United States government created to regulate interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.
**Broadband is wide bandwidth data transmission, basically fast internet access that is always on.
Wait – what is a common carrier?
This goes back to the Communications Act of 1934, which allows the FCC to regulate wire and radio communications services. Of the seven titles in the act, Title II specifies legal guidelines for common carriers. Common carriers are obligated to charge everyone the same price for the same service. If your business is to carry things for others, you have certain legal obligations. Whether you’re a postal service delivering letters or a ferry delivering people, (or an ISP delivering data) the basic obligation is “to serve upon reasonable request without unreasonable discrimination at a just and reasonable price and with adequate care”. Common carriers are defined not by what they say they are, but by what they do. Common carriers are obligated to serve everyone who wants to use the service. For example, the post office can’t deny service to people sending letters it disagrees with, and the phone company can’t refuse service to people based on their religious views. Everyone has the same right to pay to use the service. Common carriers are required to charge everyone the same price for the same service, without discrimination. Common carriers provide a service that we all want to have equal access to, such as taxi companies and wireless phone companies.
Common carriage was codified as a federal statute in the US in 1887, originally with the railroads in mind. In 1910, the act was modified to include telephone and telegraph companies. In 1934, the FCC was established to enforce these laws. Title II service providers are rigorously regulated and held to standards similar to telephone, gas and electricity providers. When ISPs were classified under Title II as common carriers, activities such as throttling, blocking and paid prioritization were specifically banned.
More (very recent) history:
April 2017: Ajit Pai, the new FCC chairman, proposed to repeal the policies favoring net neutrality that define broadband as a common carrier.
December 2017: The FCC voted in favor of repealing the policies that favor net neutrality. Basically, this reclassifies broadband Internet access service as an information service and reinstates mobile broadband Internet service as a private mobile service. They are no longer classified as common carriers.
Stay tuned next week to find out how this can impact you, the consumer.