Understanding Net Neutraility

Net neutrality, the principle that protects the free and open internet as we know it today, is under serious attack.

Net neutrality is not a partisan issue, and it don’t care matter where you fall on the political spectrum. The repeal of net neutrality will affect you as an internet user. Here’s what you need to know about this vital fight for the open web.

Image result for what is net neutrality

What is Net Neutraility?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all internet traffic equally, regardless of its content.

This is how the internet currently works. When you jump online, it doesn’t matter if you visit MakeUseOf, Google, your friend’s blog, or watch some videos on YouTube — they all work the same way. Your ISP cannot check your network packets to see what sites you’re visiting and decide to slow your browsing down because it doesn’t like what you’re doing.

Without net neutrality, ISPs could block content they didn’t agree with, prioritize certain sites over others, and force websites to pay up for the privilege of being fast.

The Current United States Net Neutrality Law

In June 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in favor of net neutrality. It did so by reclassifying broadband as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Essentially, this places ISPs under regulation like airlines and phone companies are.

Until 2015, net neutrality was hotly debated among ISPs, their users, and the U.S. government. In the early days of the internet, ISPs provided internet access through dial-up service via phone companies’ lines. Since phone companies were already bound to Title II, they couldn’t mess with your connection. And back then, there were lots of ISPs in the game, like AOL, Earthlink, and NetZero. So if yours tried anything shady, you could simply switch to another provider.

Fast-forward to modern times, and high-speed connections are vital for streaming video, playing online video games, and more. Only a few major ISPs are in play now. Chances are that you subscribe to Comcast, Verizon, or Spectrum/Charter Communications for internet service. But the problem with that is…

ISPs Have Shown How They Feel About Net Neutrality

The reason that the FCC moved to reclassify broadband under Title II was due to ISPs abusing their power. FreePress has gathered a great sampling of offenses; among the worst:

  • In 2005, Comcast blocked peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent without telling its users.
  • When the iPhone was new, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype on the iPhone unless users were on Wi-Fi. It didn’t like that Skype provided a calling alternative to its services.
  • From 2011-2013, when Google Wallet (now Android Pay) was new, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all blocked access to it. The reason? It competed with a similar app that they all had a stake in.
  • In 2012, Verizon blocked people from using tethering apps. Tethering allows you to broadcast your phone’s data connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot and connect other devices to it, like your laptop. Verizon didn’t want users to be able to tether for free since it charged $20 for this at the time.
  • Also in 2012, AT&T blocked its subscribers from using FaceTime on their iPhones unless they upgraded to a newer, more expensive plan. It had no reason for doing this other than to make more money.

All these instances would be illegal under current net neutrality rules. It’s even arguable that mobile carriers have used data cap exemptions to get around net neutrality through a back door.

Do you see why net neutrality is so important? History is a good predictor of the future.

A Future Without Net Neutrality

It’s not hard to take the above examples and expand on them to see what could happen to an internet without net neutrality. You’ve probably seen this image floating around, mocking up the “package deals” ISPs could offer without net neutrality in place:

how net neutrality repeal is going to change the internet

While this is a bit far-fetched, think on a smaller scale. After all, ISPs love vague wording, and they won’t dive all-in with their newfound power. They’ll test the waters and see how far they can go, bit by bit.

For instance, Comcast owns NBC. It would rather you watch NBC shows on its streaming service than use Hulu or Netflix. Without net neutrality, what’s to stop Comcast from slowing down access to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and similar and prioritize their own services?

They could hold Netflix hostage for millions of dollars to escape the “slow lane”, resulting in Netflix having to pass that cost onto you. You’re already paying for internet service and a Netflix subscription — now you’ll have to cover for Comcast’s greed too.

Also consider the flow of information. Verizon owns HuffPost and Yahoo, via the subsidiary Oath. What happens if it doesn’t want you to look at other news sites? Would you put up with absurdly slow speeds or outright blocking of news content that Verizon didn’t agree with?

An Open Internet Is Essential

What makes the internet so special is that it’s free and open to anyone. Think about people who earn their living, and companies who have created new methods of interaction, in ways that simply were not possible 20 or even 10 years ago:

  • YouTube creating an alternative to traditional media and giving birth to stars like PewDiePie, Rhett & Link, and Phillip DeFranco. Even Justin Bieber got his start from being seen on YouTube.
  • New ways of listening to and discovering music from Pandora, Spotify, and similar services.
  • Online gaming bringing players from around the world together to play the latest games together.
  • Subreddits on Reddit letting people interested in a common subject build a community.
  • Allowing anyone to start a blog and voice their thoughts, sell their products to buyers worldwide, and a hundred other ways to participate online.
  • The very website you’re reading this article on!

All these people, services, and pages organically gained a following despite tons of competition online. What would happen to all the above if Comcast and friends had been able to filter out websites they didn’t want you to access? What if they didn’t like how your favorite YouTube channels posed a threat to their news, so they blocked them?

You’re an entrepreneur and want to design a better alternative to a product that Verizon has a stake in? Too bad. Verizon will silence your potential threat to its income just like it blocked Google Wallet. How can we expect someone just starting out to build an audience and have success when they don’t have the money to pay ISPs to get in the fast lane?

So when you see ads over the next few weeks from the ISPs with outright lies like this one, remember that actions speak far louder than words.

In fact, Comcast has already quietly dropped its statement about not allowing paid priority on its networks. They’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying to repeal net neutrality, and you’d better believe that they intend to use it.

The FCC’s Vote

On December 14th, the five FCC leaders will vote on whether to repeal net neutrality. The chairman, Ajit Pai, has spearheaded this campaign for repeal. What you might not know is that Pai was once a lawyer for Verizon. As we’ve established above, Verizon is licking its chops at the thought of net neutrality dissolving. He certainly doesn’t have the interest of the public in mind, who vastly support keeping net neutrality.

If net neutrality goes away, the new proposed rules would only require ISPs to “be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them . . .” In other words, they’ll bury all the new ways they’re going to screw you over in the Terms and Conditions that nobody reads anyway.

What Can You Do?

Your best action to keep net neutrality in place is contacting your elected officials. They (in theory) represent you so you need to let them know how you feel. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created an easy-to-use tool that lets you send a letter to your members of Congress.

If you can call your representatives, governor, and other elected officials, do so. Let them know that you support keeping the internet free and open, and don’t want to place its future in the hands of companies who are ready to abuse it. Visit BattleForTheNet for more info on how to get involved.

Politics Not Required

Before I summarize and close, it’s worth mentioning why this is a political issue.

Some people think that net neutrality is something Democrats support and Republicans do not. Even though Barack Obama was in office when net neutrality was put into place, its roots exist farther back than that. While some might believe that classifying broadband as a Title II service wasn’t the way to go about preserving net neutrality, that’s not the argument here.

The classification does not give the government the right to meddle in the internet (the way that repealing net neutrality will give ISPs the ability to do just that). It allows the government to enforce regulations if ISPs act out of line. Conservatives and liberals alike should happily support about net neutrality. You can visit websites that cater to your views instead of being stuck with what your ISP wants you to see.

The Internet Is at Stake

Regardless, net neutrality is the current law, and right now it’s facing a repeal. Repealing it would only benefit ISPs, not the consumer. Cable companies consistently rank as some of the most hated companies in America, yet people can’t leave if they want internet access. This is because in many areas, one ISP has a monopoly.

You won’t have another choice if Comcast starts forcing you to pay more for sites you want to visit. Everybody hates how cable companies make you pay an exorbitant amount of money for channels you don’t care about, leading to many cutting out cable.

If there’s any question, companies that support net neutrality include Kickstarter, Twitter, Reddit, Mozilla, GitHub, DeviantArt, Discord, DuckDuckGo, Dropbox, Etsy, and OkCupid. Companies against it include Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. What does that tell you?

In summary, we’ve seen what net neutrality protects and why these companies want to repeal it. In the past, they’ve acted to block apps and services from devices that you paid for because they don’t want you to use them. This is crazy. If they’d block Skype to make more money, what’s to stop them from blocking entire websites?

Share This:

Net Neutrality’s New Rules

After a federal court rejected attempts by cable and phone companies to stop net neutrality this past Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission’s plan for new Internet rules went into effect. Under the new rules, the FCC can assert extra authority over the Internet to establish equal access to Internet speeds and Web sites.

Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have claimed that the rules are beyond the FCC’s powers, and challenged them in court. A full hearing on the issue is scheduled for later this year.

The broadband industry will now be under the FCC’s so-called Title II powers for the next few months at least, as both sides prepare their final arguments.

Two Changes

The ruling has two major parts. The first says that ISPs now fall under the category of telecommunications services, meaning they are bound by the regulations of Title II, which provides the FCC the authority to regulate them as a public utility. This could have major implications on the future of the industry since it is at the core of the appeal by the ISPs.

The second major part of the ruling creates so-called bright-line rules that affect a consumer’s ability to access content over the Internet. Although those rules now go into effect — and the denial of Thursday’s stay request means they’re likely to eventually pass — observers say they could get lost in the appeals process.

Net Neutrality and the final version of how these new rulings are going to settle in are not quite there yet, but we are getting closer.

Share This:

FCC Refuses to Delay Net Neutrality Ruling

The FCC appears to be serious about their new net neutrality rules and the big broadband companies like Comcast are very – very unhappy, which in itself is probably a good thing. Laws may finally be catching up with internet and broadcasting changes

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has denied the requests of several broadband providers and trade groups asking the agency to delay its net neutrality rules.

 

The FCC, late Friday, denied petitions for a stay of its net neutrality rules from Daniel Berninger, founder of the nonprofit Voice Communication Exchange Committee, the American Cable Association, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, USTelecom, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, AT&T and CenturyLink.

Berninger asked the FCC to delay its entire net neutrality order which earlier been approved in February, while the trade groups and broadband providers sought a delay in the portion of the order reclassifying broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a regulated common carrier.

The groups had asked the FCC to delay the rules from going into effect while courts deal with seven lawsuits challenging the regulations.

Public Knowledge, a digital rights groups, praised the FCC for denying the request. Reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act would enable the FCC to enforce several consumer protections, the group said.

The group further suggested that the net neutrality rules will hinder deployment of broadband.

The Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group for the manufacturers and suppliers of broadband networks, said it was disappointed with the decision. The FCC refused “a fair and reasonable request to delay the imposition of sweeping new regulations of the Internet,” the group said in a statement.
The FCC is obviously having none of the broadband group’s combined argument. That’s was decades of negative press and horrendous customer support will get you.

Share This:

Net Neutrality Faces More Challanges

net-neutrality-rulingThe FCC’s net neutrality ruling is going to need to endure some challenges in order to survive. To be specific since the FCC ruling has been filed 7 lawsuits have been launched.

The new net neutrality rules, which I believe for the most part is appropriate and necessary was approved by the FCC on February 26, would prohibit broadband and mobile carriers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic. The rule reclassifies broadband as a regulated telecom service, instead of treating it as a lightly regulated information service, as the FCC has done for the past decade.

These lawsuits are to be expected because “old ways” always die a hard death.

CenturyLink, a broadband provider has now joined the list of 6 other ISPs and trade groups suing the U.S. Federal Communications Commission over its net neutrality rules.

The company objected to the FCC’s reclassification of broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more heavily regulated common-carrier service. CenturyLink spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to “build, maintain and update an open Internet network and does not block or degrade lawful content,” it said in a statement.

The common-carrier regulations, dating back to the 1930s, “not only have no place in the 21st century economy, but will chill innovation and investment,” the company added.

The FCC is confident it will prevail in the lawsuits, Chairman Tom Wheeler said Friday.

CenturyLink, based in Monroe, Louisiana, is the third-largest telecom carrier in the U.S. It acquired Qwest in 2011, and it has about 5 million broadband customers, with its presence the strongest in the U.S. South, Mountain West and parts of the Midwest.

The six other lawsuits come from two ISPs, AT&T and Alamo Broadband and trade groups CTIA, the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom), the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the American Cable Association. Alamo and USTelecom filed lawsuits in late March, with the trade group refiling its suit on Monday. AT&T and the three other trade groups filed lawsuits on Tuesday.

Share This:

FCC Rules on Net Neutrality

Well today has finally arrived in respect to the FCC’s decision in respect to net neutrality and it went down like most of us expected and hoped for.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to approve new net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility over the objections of the commission’s Republican members and large broadband providers.

The commission voted 3-2 today to approve net neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic and from offering paid traffic prioritization services. The commission’s vote on the new rules prompted loud applause from the audience at the FCC meeting.



Of course the new regulations will almost certainly face a court challenge from broadband providers, and a court case could drag out for years. Verizon Communications, AT&T and Comcast have all publicly opposed reclassification of broadband. They see profits and control diminishing in respect to internet services and the ISP’s will not go down without a fight.

The rules are basically grounded in a reclassification of broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more heavily regulated telecommunications service, although FCC staff said the agency will refrain from applying about 700 traditional telecom rules, such as price regulation and forced sharing of networks with competitors.

The order applies net neutrality regulations to mobile, as well as fixed and broadband providers although smaller broadband providers will be exempt for a period of time. The new rules will prohibit broadband providers from acting as gatekeepers to Web content.

The FCC’s vote comes after a year of debate over net neutrality rules. In early 2014, a U.S. appeals court overturned net neutrality rules the agency passed in 2010, saying the FCC pegged the rules to the wrong section of the Telecommunications Act.

There is sure to be some court battles with the big broadband providers with republicans lining up with the them to battle the FCC and democrats. For me, I stand with the FCC on this one.

Share This:

Net Neutrality Vote Grows Near

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Federal courts have recently ruled that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lacks the Congressionally granted authority to regulate internet service providers (ISPs) at present.

Common Carrier Reclassification Possibility? 

This week the FCC’s Chairman Thomas Edgar Wheeler will internally unveil a plan to revamp and revitalize the FCC’s net neutrality agenda. In its earliest form, his plan would have replaced net neutrality with a set of laissez-faire rules so ineffectual that even the worst offenders would be likely to embrace “net neutrality” in its new watered down form. However after widespread complaints and amid the threat that his plan would be ruled as legally groundless, Wheeler has been forced to modify his plan.  Net neutrality activists hope his new plan will be better, and more legally sound than the original attempt.

At the heart of the plan would reportedly be an order to reclassify most internet service providers as “telecommunications services” which would change current classification as “information services.”  That change would be truly be a crucial change because Congress has already granted the FCC power to enforce a “vibrant and competitive free market” (see: 47 U.S.C. § 230 Chapter 5, Subchapter II), but that provision applies solely to telecommunications services and not other types of services, such as “information services.”

For the everyday internet user this odd distinction may seem like a bunch of bureaucratic silliness, but it was seemingly well intended.  The thought here is to avoid regulating emerging technologies with strict rules that has governed mature markets such as the telecommunications phone marketplace.

The distinction makes sense to me however the problem is that the deadline for re-codification when a technology matures is purely defined.  As a result of this poor definition, cable internet once a luxury has became a ubiquitous service and to date it’s not recognized as such under the FCC’s regulatory policy which of course has led to cable service poorly controlled and consistently ranking new the bottom of customer service ranking annually.

Cable Carrier

What’s The Worse That Can Happen if This Goes Wrong?

In a healthy, competitive services market net neutrality might be a meaningless. However in many markets just one or two corporate cable internet providers maintain a monopoly on local communications. Sadly this monopoly situation was partially created by the government who has helped feed the monster.

As a result a powerful Internet service provider (ISP) like Comcast often (and usually) squeezes additional tolls out of the internet’s top content providers like Netflix. The fees fees pad ISP profits while at the same time raising the rates of their customers.

The obvious solution here is to break up the collusive ISPs that have a monopoly grip on the market.  But the U.S. government, fed by the telecommunications lobbyists has shown little interest in playing the role of monopoly breaker. Of Teddy Roosevelt where are you with your big stick when we need you. If anything the government has appeared content to let things proceed in the opposite direction, as evidenced by its consideration of the proposed $45.2B USD merger of the nation’s two largest cable internet firms, Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Of course as you might guess Comcast has already aggressively moved to violate net neutrality, looking to offer customers “unlimited” internet lines and high speed connections, then denying them the service they paid for.

And finally since there is no alternative if customers want to view high speed video from Netflix or other service providers, those service firms (such as Netflix have been forced to pay increasing fees or have their services deteriorated by reduced bandwidth controlled by the likes of Comcast.  Then the services effectively pass these fees on to consumers, forcing them to pay twice. You can see this is a vicious circle.

Decisions May Be Finally Growing Near

President Obama has recently pushed the FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to pursue reclassification.

Now Wheeler has shown signs of changing his opinion.  In comments to the press in January at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), he stated:

“It became obvious that [the term] ‘commercially reasonable’ [in the original proposal] could be interpreted as what is reasonable for the ISPs, not what’s reasonable for consumers or innovators. And that’s the wrong question and the wrong answer. Because the issue here is how do we make sure that consumers and innovators have access to open networks.
We’re going to propose rules that say that no blocking, no throttling, [no] paid prioritization, all that list of issues, and that there is a yardstick against which behavior should be measured. And that yardstick is ‘just and reasonable.”
The FCC’s final draft is expected to include reclassification plans which should be released internally on February 5. This new draft whould be very interesting. Stay tuned.

Share This:

Ruling on Net Neutrality Grows Closers

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this past Friday announced it will hold a vote on new net neutrality rules during its upcoming February meeting. FCC spokesperson Kim Hart stated that chairman Tom Wheeler will bring the new rules to a vote at the FCC’s February 26 meeting. Regardless of this scheduled meeting it remains unclear what form the new rules will take. There has been continued intense debate in respect to just how the FCC should proceed on net neutrality after a U.S. appeals court last year threw out large parts of the net neutrality rules the agency adopted in late 2010.

net_neutrality1_600x400

It was just about a year ago when the U.S. appeals court threw out a large portion of net neutrality rules the FCC had originally approved approved back in 2010. The court ruled that the FCC’s rules came too close to common carrier regulations when the commission did not take the step of reclassifying broadband providers as regulated utilities.

The FCC has reportedly received nearly 4 million public comments about the proposed regulations. Wheeler originally proposed that the FCC adopt rules that would allow broadband providers to engage in “commercially reasonable” traffic management, and in limited cases, charge Web content providers and services for prioritized traffic. It is these comments have enraged so many regarding the FCC steeping in and managing the internet. On the other hand there are those calling on the FCC to pass stronger rules prohibiting traffic prioritization deals. Many advocates of strong net neutrality rules want the FCC to reclassify broadband as a regulated public utility, while exempting them from some common carrier rules, like price regulation.

This classic style political cartoon depicts what many fear regarding the FCC stepping into the internet.

This classic style political cartoon depicts what many fear regarding the FCC stepping into “manage” the internet.

It is believed that Wheeler is considering a “hybrid net neutrality rule”. This hybrid approach would more then likely divide broadband into two services for the purpose of regulation. One service would be retail broadband access, which would remain lightly regulated, and the second would be back-end transit service, which the FCC would reclassify as a regulated common carrier, similar to utility-style regulation for traditional telephone service.

Sound confusing, that is because it is. I fear that regardless of the eventual ruling the internet is about to get much more complex. Stay tuned.

Share This: