Net Neutrality, Title II and What Do They Mean For You?
Yesterday was the “Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” … you may have noticed. Numerous websites changed their homepages to display support. Some directed visitors to forms for comments to the Federal Communications Commission about the plans to reverse rules that ban blocking, throttling and paid priority by Internet Service Providers. The FCC is planning to overturn the two-year-old decision that invokes “Title II,” the authority to impose these net neutrality rules.
First, let’s go over the lingo. According to Wikipedia, Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are companies that provide services accessing and using the Internet. Some of the most well known ISPs are AT&T, Comcast, Charter/Time Warner and Verizon. Title II refers to the section of the Communications Act of 1934 that classifies common carriers to be regulated by the FCC. The net neutrality laws that were imposed in 2015 classify ISPs as common carriers so, therefore, they’re also regulated by the FCC. Interesting fact- The Communications Act of 1934 was put in place to regulate AT&T’s monopoly on the phone industry.
Experts are saying what’s likely is that the FCC will declassify ISPs as common carriers. This means the FCC will have less authority in overseeing practices of ISPs like Comcast, Charter, etc. These protections offered by Title II are why advocacy groups are protesting in an effort to protect consumers. Also, these laws mean even the most rural and/or poor areas have access to broadband internet and telecom. Rolling back these laws could open the door for that to change.
So what does this mean for you? Although there are numerous more details about the history of these laws, the basic discussion centers around freedom of access equally to every website without extra fees or slowing of connection. It’s illegal (under Section 202 of Title II) for companies classified as common carriers “to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination” in rates, practices, or offering of services. Also, currently ISPs are forced to transparently disclose fees such as overages and installation. Not so in the future say many net neutrality supporters.
Think about this debate like you would compare electric service to cable TV. You pay a monthly fee for electricity but the electric company has very little say in what you do with that electricity. The company still makes a comfortable profit but doesn’t offer you packages and plans like a cable TV company does. Cable television providers go through strenuous negotiations with owners of cable channels and have specific arrangements with them of which consumers have no knowledge. Without net neutrality, the internet could be offered in a similar fashion to cable TV with ISPs having packages and plans for websites like they do TV channels.
Why would the FCC want to reverse it’s own rules that are just two years old? In 2015, the FCC was under direction of the democratic party and has since changed hands. Republican leaders of the FCC now say the laws imposed in 2015 make it harder for ISPs to invest in technology and expand their business. The FCC’s now Chairman, Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, has said “the internet was not broken in 2015” when these rules were imposed upon ISPs.
The FCC is in the midst of what they call a comment period and are accepting arguments on both sides until July 17. Reply comments are due by August 17. For more on the issue visit the FCC initiatives page here or the Free Press website www.savetheinternet.com