The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing to get rid of Net neutrality rules established under the Obama administration, which in 2015 reclassified the Internet as a public utility, similar to ones handling electricity and water. The rules prevent Internet service providers from blocking, slowing, or offering paid prioritization of websites.
Major technology companies are protesting the revocation plans, which could limit users’ access to Web content. More than 14 million public comments have been filed both for and against the changes.
Here’s what you need to know about Net neutrality and how changes to it could impact the Internet.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
Net neutrality is part of the U.S. Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires the Internet to remain free and open. Anyone is allowed to access it, and ISPs may not give any websites preferential treatment over others. Providers may not, for example, offer what are called fast lanes to speed up loading and streaming for certain sites. Nor may they block access. In other words, all Internet content must be treated equally.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
The FCC is proposing to undo Net neutrality protections. The commission’s chair, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney, says the current neutrality plan unfairly burdens ISPs with regulations—which hampers innovation. The changes will lead to improved service for customers, Pai adds. ISPs argue they must prioritize some traffic to keep the Internet running smoothly.
The changes would reduce regulations governing ISPs such as Sprint and Verizon. That could free them to do things they can’t do now, such as charging website owners for faster speeds. Those with deeper pockets then could offer speedier site loading or streaming services than competitors could. Proponents of Net neutrality argue that under the proposed changes, Netflix, Spotify, and other giants would monopolize the field, offering fewer alternatives for consumers.
Moreover, the providers might influence access to content based on their own interests. They could, for example, slow down loading time of articles or websites about certain topics or block the content altogether. Such gatekeeping behavior isn’t unprecedented. Verizon in 2007 attempted to stop a pro-choice group’s text-message advocacy campaign on its network. The company later reversed its decision. The American Civil Liberties Union wrote then that such censorship is an example of what the Internet would be like without Net neutrality.
WHY IS SILICON VALLEY OUTRAGED?
Not all big companies agree that changes to Net neutrality would be good for business. Amazon, Facebook, and Snapchat have stood up against the proposed changes along with smaller companies, private citizens, and organizations. They say the changes would stifle innovation.
Evan Greer, campaign director at the nonprofit Fight for the Future, told CNN that the proposed changes underscore the very reason Net neutrality protections are needed. The protections “make sure that the largest companies aren't able to stifle smaller up-and-comers and stamp out innovation and diversity of opinion online,” he says.
Where do you stand?