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.
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. 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.
This issue has been prevalent since the turn of the century and gained notoriety when Comcast was caught interfering with traffic on certain sites. 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.
January 12, 2003 - The history of net neutrality dates back to its first coined use by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia University in 2003. 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.
June 27, 2005 - The first major legal precedent on net neutrality was set in 2005 when the Supreme Court ruled communication content to pass freely over the internet. In the case of NCTA v. Brand X it was determined that ISPs provide an information service and therefore cannot be obstructed by the provider to the user.
September 1, 2007 - Comcast, one of the dominant ISPs at the time, was found interfering with BitTorrent traffic. 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 FCC required Comcast to disclose to their subscribers how they plan to manage traffic in the future.
September 23, 2011 - The FCC previously created the Open Internet Rules in December 2010 which required transparency and prohibited blocking to protect internet openness, though these rules were not published until September 2011.
May 13, 2014 - The FCC appended rules allowing fast and slow lanes on the internet. 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.
February 26, 2015 - The FCC passed the Title II Net Neutrality Rules which grounds the open internet rules in the Title II authority. This defined an ISP as a common carrier public service disallowing any interference with the content.
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.
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 . ISPs have also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying since 2003 to gain support for their platforms. 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. 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.
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 they define a free and open market.
Several economists, FCC chairman, and ISPs claim that net neutrality inhibits competition among internet service providers. Economists Litan and Singer 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” If ISPs prioritize certain businesses, smaller companies will have to invest in improving internet service technology on their own and encouraging innovation in this field. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) submitted comments to the FCC titled “In the Matter of Restoring Internet Freedom.” WISPA 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”. 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 low income, rural parts of the companies” These groups believe that regulation on internet service will prevent the U.S. from having a free and open internet broadband market.
Supporters of net neutrality argue that internet regulation will encourage a free and open internet. Organizations like Battle for the Net and comedian, John Oliver, have rallied members of the public to fight to protect Title II. On the Battle for the Net’s website, they explain that they are “Team Internet” and that net neutrality prevents ISPs from “blocking, throttling and paid prioritization”. They fear that roll back on Title II regulation will affect growing businesses and their access to customers. With large corporations paying for faster services, small companies will be left in the dust and have to tackle increased barriers to entry for their desired markets. John Oliver, a talk show host, argues the importance of net neutrality and that under internet regulation “all data needs to be treated equally no matter who created it” making it an “even level playing field.” Startups and entrepreneurs can supplant and compete with established brands with equal broadband services. Even large corporations like Google, Facebook, and Netflix are in support of net neutrality. In a statement to the public, Google states that if service providers can block some services “that would threaten the innovation that makes the internet awesome”. Both sides of the net neutrality debate argue that they are protecting competition and a free market.
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.
- ^ Gilroy, A. A. (2008). Net neutrality: background and issues.
- ^ 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
- ^ PBS NewsHour. (2017). FCC chair Ajit Pai explains why he wants to scrap net neutrality. PBS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q5_oV4JB10
- ^ A Timeline of Net Neutrality. (n.d.). December 7, 2017, http://whatisnetneutrality.org/timeline
- ^ Oliver, J. (2014). Net Neutrality. Last Week Tonight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU
- ^ Tim Wu, "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination", Columbia University Law School, 2003
- ^ http://www.timwu.org/OriginalNNProposal.pdf
- ^ Art Brodsky, "Public Knowledge Statement Regarding NCTA v BrandX Internet", Public Knowledge, June 27, 2005
- ^ https://www.cnet.com/news/fcc-formally-rules-comcasts-throttling-of-bittorrent-was-illegal/
- ^ Harold Feld, "Quick Guide Upcoming Net Neutrality Rules Challenge", Public Knowledge, September 23, 2011
- ^ https://www.publicknowledge.org/news-blog/blogs/how-the-fccs-proposed-fast-lanes-would-actually-work
- ^ Michael Weinberg, "Landmark Day for Net Neutrality", Public Knowledge, September 15, 2014
- ^ Fiegerman, Seth. "Trump names new FCC chairman". CNN Tech. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
- ^ Kastrenakes, Jacob (Apr 26, 2017). "FCC announces plan to reverse Title II net neutrality". The Verge. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
- ^ "Major web companies and public interest groups announce Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality". Fight For The Future. 6 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
- ^ Litan, R. E. & Singer, H. J. (2010, August 13). Why Business Should Oppose Net Neutrality. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2010/08/why-business-should-oppose-net-neutrality
- ^ Coran. (2017, August 30). Reply comments of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. Lerman Senter PLLC. http://www.wispa.org/Portals/37/FCC%20Filings/2017/Restoring%20Internet%20Freedom%20-%20Reply%20Comments%20as%20filed.pdf
- ^ Battle for the Net. (n.d.). We are Team Internet. https://www.battleforthenet.com
- ^ Google Take Action (2017). We stand together. https://www.google.com/takeaction/action/freeandopen/index.html
- ^ https://twitter.com/comcast/status/885165857810386946?lang=en
- ^ OpenSecrets. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2017, from https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indusclient.php?id=B09
- ^ Reddit on Net Neutrality: https://www.reddit.com/r/netneutrality/