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What is Net Neutrality? All you Need to Know

What is Net Neutrality

Net neutrality – politicians have been throwing around this buzzword for a long time. After all, the future of the Internet depends on it.

To be specific, net neutrality is the principle that ISPs shouldn’t control all online content. The content should flow through cables and cell towers. Providers shouldn’t be sliding data through fast lanes and blocking or discriminating material. They shouldn’t block users from accessing services like Skype, Hulu or Netflix to encourage them to keep the cable package.

The video below explains net neutrality and how it may affect you:

Overview of the Net Neutrality Law

The net neutrality law focuses on these 3 practices:

  • Blocking ISPs cannot prevent user access to lawful content on the web.
  • Paid Prioritization ISPs cannot prioritize consumers or companies who pay a premium for a fast lane.
  • Throttling They cannot limit the bandwidth of the user or slow down the connection based on their Internet activities.

Without net neutrality in place, ISPs could be blocking certain websites and favor one user over another. Net neutrality will allow users to have free and equal access to cable and online streaming content. ISPs are guilty of throttling. Every time a user tries to use Twitch or similar other platforms, they slow down the connection. But they speed it back when you are not playing.

Net Neutrality – Where It All Began

The phrase “Network Neutrality” was first used by a law professor named Tim Wu at Columbia University in 2003. Wu provided a general perspective of net neutrality by stating that government regulation should invariability help ensure that Internet providers don’t prevent the availability of the best products and app to end-users.

Origin of the Net Neutrality Regulation

Advocates of net neutrality say that regulation is necessary for preventing ISPs from practicing their best interest instead of the interest of the user. Before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the net neutrality law, several cases against the ISPs were presented stating they don’t act in the user’s interest.

The US regulation on net neutrality dates back to 1999. It was introduced after merger conditions were placed on major ISPs. The debate started when academics feared the business model of cable TV will overcome the Open Internet.

The FCC ruled in the favor of net neutrality on February 26, 2015, by reclassifying broadband as the common carrier under Title 11 of the Communications Act of 1924 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The rules of net neutrality were to be effective in June 2015.

Net Neutrality Timeline

Let’s do a quick review of the history of net neutrality:

2003 Cox and Comcast blocked their Internet users from using VPNs.

2005 FCC fined Madison River Communication $15,000 when it blocked VoIP calls.

2006 Congress rejected 5 different bills which could have given FCC the power to enforce the neutrality law.

2007 A bill named the Internet Freedom Preservation Act was passed to amend the Communications Act of 1934 for implementing net neutrality. Even though the law was introduced in Congress, it didn’t pass.

2008 The FCC passed votes saying Comcast throttling BitTorrent is illegal. The chairman of FCC Kevin Martin said that we need to protect the access of consumers. Even though Comcast said it would prevent arbitrary blocking, consumers must know that this commitment is backed up by legal enforcement.

2009 AT&T reserved its policy that blocked iPhone users from making Internet calls over its cellular network using Google Voice, Skype, and other non-Apple apps.

2012 Comcast Internet users who use Xbox 360 were allowed to stream on-demand video via the console without worrying about exceeding their monthly data limit. However, Comcast users who would stream through console other than Xbox 360 were bound by data cap. The Xfinity app that worked on Xbox 360 was shut down a few years later after this law was passed.

2014 Comcast users started complaining they are experiencing poor Internet speed when watching Netflix. To fix that, Comcast charged Netflix a fee for improving the interconnection between ISPs to speed up the browsing.

FCC started investigating the interconnection complaints of Netflix and other streaming sites. As a result, ISPs were asked to improve their bandwidth so that users could stream video content without compromising on the streaming speed.

2015 FCC voted 3 to 2 for adopting the net neutrality law. The idea was to ensure that neither the government nor any corporate authority could control open access to the Internet. This was under the government of Barack Obama.

2017 The Net neutrality vote happened under the government of Donald Trump as well. FCC voted 3-2 for net neutrality appeal. The rules around throttling, paid prioritization and blocking were reserved.

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Things to Know About Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is very important for small business owners, startups, entrepreneurs and anyone who uses the Internet. An open Internet is crucial for innovation, staying competitive and job growth.

What NN laws mean to you depend on how you use the Internet. Regardless of the type of user you are, the absence of this law means that ISPs can freely do anything. They could be charging you differently depending on what services you use (Netflix, social media, Spotify, Skype, and so on).

Here’re a few things everyone must know about net neutrality:

  1. NN applies to the entire Internet

The NN regulations say that each website is accessible at the same speed to all users. Spectrum and Verizon cannot block certain apps or certain websites. They are not allowed to provide more access to different users.

The current Chairman of FCC, Ajit Pai says that the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet. They will encourage ISPs to share how they manage things.

  1. ISPs will continue to rake users if there is no net neutrality

If there are no regulations in place, no one can stop ISPs from creating service tiers. ISPs argue that they should charge more for websites that take more bandwidth.

  1. Small businesses could suffer

If ISPs end up blocking websites, it can get expensive to even use the Internet. This would negatively impact small businesses and startups. The use of social media will reduce and word of mouth popularity could be affected.

  1. Fewer businesses, less competition, and limited customers

Without net neutrality, there will be fewer startups. The business world will become less competitive. Costly memberships, tiered packages, and uncompetitive prices will take a toll on customer wallets whether they are using mobile Internet or Wi-Fi.

Do the 2015 Rules still Apply?

Even though the 2015 net neutrality regulation was approved it came off the books. To this date, there are no rules that prevent ISP providers from blocking Internet access and reducing Internet speed. There is nothing consumers or businesses can do to stop this.

The order called Restoring Internet Freedom stripped away the authority of FCC for regulating broadband. The authority was handed over to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). FCC placed broadband in the classification of an old-style telephone network. This gave the agency more power of regulation. The Republicans backlashed over this move. They claimed the bill of Democrats for restoring rules that offered FCC too much authority over ISPs.

Pai, the chairman of FCC called the old rules heavy-handed. He proposed new rules. He took the FCC back to a light regulatory approach for pleasing the ISPs and Republicans.

The FCC Sued in Federal Court

As a result of this move, net neutrality consumers groups such as Free Press, Public knowledge and Firefox originated. Attorney Generals in 22 states joined these groups to use FCC in federal court and reverse its move.

Oral arguments were held in Mozilla Vs FCC to challenge FCC’s appeal of 2015 rules. The lawsuit addressed 2 big questions. First: whether the agency had enough reason to change the classification of broadband after implementing 2015 rules. Second: Whether it has the right to preempt states from adopting their own laws for net neutrality.

The Outcome

The court upheld the repeal of the agency’s rules. However, it didn’t support their provisions that blocked states from passing their own regulations for NN. The agency was told to consider issues such as the effects of the repeal of protection on public safety.

Immediate Twitter reactions were received against FCC’s decision. See for yourself:

Who Won?

A majority of the decision went in the favor of FCC. However, the court upheld its authority of classifying broadband.

How does it affect net neutrality now?

There are no rules that prohibit broadband companies from slowing down Internet speed, blocking user access and charging higher fees for priority access to content.

However, states that have passed their own laws on NN can move forward. New Jersey, Washington, California, Vermont, and Oregon have adopted resolutions for protecting network neutrality already.

Can Net Neutrality Rules Be Restored?

All these arguments must have you wondering if net neutrality regulations could be restored. As we enter the 2020 presidential election year, there are good chances that the regulations will restore. If Democrats win the elections, rules can be reinstated.

Comparitech conducted a survey that revealed 82 percent of Americans are in favor of net neutrality. 83.2 percent of them are millennials, 79.3 percent are Generation X and 82.4 percent are baby boomers. Even though users are in favor of the regulation, the fate of NN depends on the 2020 elections. Let’s hope 2020 brings prosperity and justice to Internet users.

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