Lentis/Net Neutrality

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Introduction[edit]

Background[edit]

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) cannot interfere with the content they provide customers or show preference to any content. Whether action should be taken and what that action should be is a rising concern. Policymakers contend that more guidelines are necessary to protect the online marketplace from potential abuses threatening a free and open internet. Others contend that the existing policies are either sufficient or are too strict.[1]

In the United States, this principle is protected by Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 which defines ISPs as common utilities rather than information providers, preventing ISPs from charging content creators premiums for faster delivery to the end user.[2] This principle is supported by major content creators such as Google, Facebook, and Netflix, along with growing businesses and the general public because they view the system as a level playing field for their content. However, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, along with major ISP corporations such as Comcast and Verizon, favor replacing Title II regulations with user agreements that set the terms of service they provide, claiming that regulations inhibit service development and reduce competition between ISP’s.[3]

This issue has been prevalent since the turn of the century and gained notoriety when Comcast was caught interfering with traffic on certain sites.[4] ISPs have lobbied lawmakers to pass legislation that favors them while the general public utilizes online forums, blog posts, and the media to gain the attention of lawmakers, highlighting the battle between economic interests in the political domain.[5]

History[edit]

June 1934 – The Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate commerce in wire and radio communication. The FCC replaced the Federal Radio Commission and took over telecommunication authority from the Interstate Commerce Commission.[6]

February 1996 – The Telecommunications Act of 1996 included the internet in the broadcast and spectrum allotment in order to establish government regulatory control and increase market competition.[7]

March 2002 – Under chairman Michael Powell, the FCC classified cable modem services as an Title I "information service" under the Communications Act of 1934; thus, relaxing regulation of broadband internet providers.[8]

January 2003 – The history of net neutrality dates back to its first coined use by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia University in 2003.[1] In his paper, A Proposal for Network Neutrality, Wu discusses the principal of balancing the interests of the ISPs in providing their networks with the threats of new application markets.[2]

June 2005 – The Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s authority to classify broadband in federal appeals case Brand X (an ISP) vs. the FCC, so broadband remained an information service according to the FCC and was exempt from common carrier requirements of utilities.[9]

October 2007 - August 2008 – The Associated Press and other news outlets report on Comcast, one of the dominant ISPs at the time, and Comcast’s interference with BitTorrent traffic.[10] This marks the first time that any United States ISP was found to violate net neutrality rules. Comcast claims that their measures were necessary to prevent its network from being overrun. The following year, the FCC ruled against Comcast and gave them a cease-and-desist order, required disclosure to customers on how they manage traffic in the future, and mandated network management without throttling specific traffic protocols.[10]

April 2010 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with Comcast in their appeal against the FCC, stating that “the agency does not have the power to regulate an Internet provider's network management practices.”[11]

December 2010 – Under chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC adopted Open Internet Order, which is the first-time net neutrality appears in regulation.[12] The rules were not published until September 2011.[3]

January 2014 – Verizon filed a case against the FCC saying that the Open Internet Order was overstepping the FCC’s authority. The court divided the Open Internet Order and ultimately ruled that some sections were outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction due to the classification of broadband as an information service, whereas other sections were maintained or expanded.[13]

May 2014 – Under chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC reinstated net neutrality. However, the proposal sparked protest by net-neutrality supporters at the notion of differing Internet speed connection lanes.[14] The proposal allowed fast and slow lanes on the internet, where the slow lane guaranteed a minimum level of access, while not blocking any content or degrading the connection. The fast lane could be sold to provide a commercially reasonable speed. This marked the beginning of a two-tier internet with the FCC assuming the minimum level of access will remain fast.[4]

February 2015 – As urged by president Barack Obama, the FCC voted to classify the internet as a Title II service “public utility” under the Communications Act of 1934. Chairman Wheeler also extended the authority to mobile networks in order to modernize the 1934 act.[15]

January 2017 – President Donald Trump appoints Ajit Pai as the new chairman for the FCC.[5] Pai announced his plans for reversing the Title II regulations recently set.[6]

July 12, 2017 – Amazon, Reddit, Netflix and many other significant internet organizations participated in a "Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality" as an attempt to convince the currently Republican-controlled FCC to keep the net neutrality rules.[7]

March 2018 – Congress introduced the ‘Save the Internet Bill’ to restore net neutrality as defined in 2010 by the Open Internet Order. It included a proposal to reverse the FCC’s 2017 ruling to reclassify broadband. [16]

October 2019 – The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the repeal of net neutrality and deregulation, but ruled that states could pass their own net neutrality protections.[17]

Public Appeals[edit]

To gain support for their platform, ISPs and others against their Title II classification such as Ajit Pai use traditional advertisements, lobbying, comedic appeals, and social media. Comcast continuously publishes paid advertisements on twitter claiming that they support net neutrality and abandonment of Title II classification of ISPs[18]. ISPs have also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying since 2003 to gain support for their platforms[19]. Ajit Pai also publishes images of himself with his oversized reese's coffee mug to portray himself as a relatable individual to gain support for his platform.

The groups in support of Title II net neutrality regulations use government owned online forums, comedic appeals, and social media to increase support for their views. John Oliver published multiple full length comedic segments to inform the public about developments surrounding the net neutrality debate and actively encouraged individuals to comment on the FCC forum and contact their representatives to maintain Title II regulations[20]. He also bought the domain “gofccyourself.com” to facilitate comments on the FCC page. Google, Facebook, and Netflix also support this viewpoint and dedicate internet pages to outline their views supporting Title II regulations. Some have also formed subreddits to voice their concerns and gain public support with the ultimate aim of having individuals call their representatives to discourage votes against Title II regulations[21].

Claimed Impact[edit]

A main point of contention for supporters and opposers of net neutrality is economic competition. Supporters believe that net neutrality protects a free and open market, while opposers believe it prevents one. The disparity between these arguments lies in how different groups define internet as either a public utility, or a publicly traded commodity. The freeness and openness of the internet market hinges on this definition.

Opposition[edit]

A quote by Verizon VP Kathy Grillo sums up the opposing position: “Net Neutrality undermined investment and innovation, and posed a significant threat to the internet’s continued ability to grow and evolve”[22]. Several Economists and FCC chairman Ajit Pai corroborate this stance. Economists Litan and Singer[23] from the Harvard Business Review state, “Absent net neutrality restrictions, entrepreneurs in their garages would devote significant energies trying to topple Google with the next killer application.” The opposition believes that declaring internet as a public utility diminishes competition in the internet market as well as disincentivizes ISPs from investing in improved network infrastructure[24]. From the ISPs point of view, and as Francois Meunier states in his article The Economics of Net Neutrality[24]: "Internet bandwidth is a resource that is not infinitely expandable and where congestion penalizes all users." The scarcity of the internet as a resource is a main point in the argument for why internet allocation should be a free market. Of course, a free market also benefits ISPs' profitability as it would allow for profits to be made from both the consumers (internet users) and content producers (Facebook, Google, etc.) on the internet[24]. At the moment, profits are only being made from internet consumers in a scheme that depends entirely on users signing up and not at all on how much they use the internet[24]. Should the internet be made a completely open market, ISPs would also be able to charge content producers for the traffic to their websites. In an interview with FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, when asked what his principal concerns with net neutrality laws, he expressed his concern with Title II regulations on ISPs that it could “end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out internet access to a lot of parts of the country”[25]. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) has also argues on behalf of large and small ISPs that internet regulation “negatively affects investment and expansion, which in turn limits the ability of currently unserved consumers to gain access to broadband”[26]. Since the repeal of Net Neutrality in 2017, however, capital expenditures from ISPs have not increased as promised[27].

Support[edit]

The manifest view of the supporters of Net Neutrality is that it promotes a free and open market where all organizations have equal opportunity to compete via the internet. The latent supporting view is that no one wants to potentially pay more for internet or have to deal with varying network speeds. Due to large bandwidth requirements video producers will likely pay the highest premiums for the proportions of bandwidth that they use. In fact, Netflix was the first to feel the financial burden of their video streaming services in 2014 when Comcast slowed their connection speeds and forced them to pay extra for more bandwidth[28]. At this time, Netflix's share of internet traffic was as high as 34.89% during peak evening hours[29]. Organizations like Battle for the Net have rallied members of the public to fight to protect the Title II regulations in ISPs. They fear that ISPs will "[throttle] Internet speeds and [impose] unfair fees" on consumers and businesses[30]. In a public statement, Google said that the ability for ISPs to block some services “would threaten the innovation that makes the internet awesome”[31].

By Country[edit]

India[edit]

On July 12th 2018, the Indian government, particularly the Telecom Commission, passed the “world’s strongest” net neutrality regulations with the intention to bolster small companies and protect India’s inhabitants.[32]

Although nearly two thirds of India do not have access to the internet, the increased accessibility of smart phones has expedited the government's actions on Net Neutrality. The government desires to restrict “any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content,” as to ensure millions of Indians are not exploited during the boom of internet access.[33] However, ISPs are still allowed to discriminate against “critical" and "specialized services” such as self-driving cars and remote surgery.[34]

This stance was recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which was established by the Indian government in 1997 under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act. As of 2015, the opinions, outlined in the Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, are against Net Neutrality. The TRAI’s initial framework did not reflect the views of the public, and were widely criticized as a result.[35] However, after listening to the feedback, TRAI passed the “Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016,” one year later. This prohibition ruled in favor of Net Neutrality and banned ISPs from unfair or discriminatory allocations of data. Since, their recommendations in 2017 and 2018, which have continued to reflect public belief, have led to the successful enforcement of net neutrality nationwide.

Canada[edit]

In Canada, the actions of ISPs and general telecommunications are currently regulated by The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s federal telecommunications regulatory body. In 2011, the CRTC ruled against Net Neutrality and that ISPs could customize billing per users based on usage.[36] This ruling was not viewed favorably by the public or the prime minister at the time, who called for a review of the decision.[37] However, as of April 2017, the CRTC adopted a partially net neutral policy, promoting freedom of the internet, but allowing ISP’s to differentiate consumers by selling different packages that offer alternative speed rates and monthly data usage. The ruling holds that choosing which content, app, or services to count towards one data cap is strictly prohibited.[38]

Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada, has made his stance clear. He is in support of Net Neutrality, and has revealed his concern with the FCC in the United States, by underscoring net neutrality as something “is essential for small businesses, for consumers."[39] Recent cases have highlighted the increasing Canadian tension regarding this topic. In 2014, Xplornet, a Canadian ISP, used throttling technologies on their users. The CRTC did not penalize them, only asking Xplornet to fix their problems, leading to questions regarding the severity of CRTC's enforcement of Net Neutrality .[40] Further, in 2017, the CRTC ruled all cellular data used be counted towards a data cap set by the ISP and agreed upon by the consumer. Videotron was not counting music streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify against their data cap. The CRTC believed that treating more-established services with better treatment would disadvantage smaller services.[41]

Conclusion[edit]

Net neutrality prohibits ISPs from interfering with the flow of information to internet users. Since the early 2000s, net neutrality has rapidly attracted attention. Ruling on net neutrality has swung back and forth over the past years and will be contested again at the end of 2017. Both sides of the debate have spent much time and resources to attract support in the hopes of permanently defining policy in their favor. The internet is the fastest avenue to reach an audience and both sides of the net neutrality debate are using it to gain support. While supporters argue that a free and open internet market is one where every website has equal access to users, the opposing side argues net neutrality prevents a free and open broadband market and inhibits innovation among internet service. A recommendation for further study would be to analyze the social and economic of upcoming legislation.

References[edit]

  1. Gilroy, A. A. (2008). Net neutrality: background and issues.
  2. Federal Communications Commission. (2015). FCC adopts strong, sustainable rules to protect the open internet. http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2015/db0226/DOC-332260A1.pdf
  3. PBS NewsHour. (2017). FCC chair Ajit Pai explains why he wants to scrap net neutrality. PBS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q5_oV4JB10
  4. A Timeline of Net Neutrality. (n.d.). December 7, 2017, http://whatisnetneutrality.org/timeline
  5. Oliver, J. (2014). Net Neutrality. Last Week Tonight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU
  6. Communications Act of 1934, Pub. L. No. 13-416, 48 Stat. 1064 (1934).
  7. Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 (1996).
  8. Federal Communications Commission. (2002). FCC Classifies Cable Modem Service as "Information Service” (FCC 02-77). Federal Communications Commission.
  9. National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services. 545 U.S. 967 (2005).
  10. a b Svensson, P. (2007, October 19). Comcast Blocks Some Internet Traffic. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21376597/ns/technology_and_science-internet/t/comcast-blocks-some-internet-traffic/
  11. McCullagh, D. (2010, April 6). Court: FCC has no power to regulate Net neutrality. https://www.cnet.com/news/court-fcc-has-no-power-to-regulate-net-neutrality/
  12. Federal Communications Commission. (2010). FCC Releases Open Internet Order (30 FCC Rcd 5601).
  13. Verizon Communications v. Federal Communications Commission, 740 F.3d 623 (D.C. Cir. 2014)
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  39. Trudeau, J. (2017). Justin Trudeau Is ‘Very Concerned’ With FCC’s Plan to Roll Back Net Neutrality - VICE. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from 2017 website: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ywb83y/justin-trudeau-is-very-concerned-with-fcc-plan-to-roll-back-net-neutrality-donald-trump
  40. Geist, M. (2015). When it comes to net neutrality, Canada’s going at half-throttle: Geist | The Star. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from The Star website: https://www.thestar.com/business/2015/08/07/when-it-comes-to-net-neutrality-canadas-going-at-half-throttle-geist.html
  41. Jackson, E. (2017). CRTC’s decision on differential pricing bans Videotron’s unlimited music service, data caps still allowed | Financial Post. Retrieved December 10, 2019, from Financial Post website: https://business.financialpost.com/technology/crtcs-new-internet-pricing-rules-ban-videotrons-unlimited-music-service-data-caps-still-allowed