Net Neutrality – a principle advocating for free and open internet.
It’s a hot topic that affects more than you think. In this piece, I’ll explore Net Neutrality in detail, what it involves, its history, its importance, and what the future looks like.
If you’ve always wanted to know about Net Neutrality, keep reading.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality pushes for all internet traffic to be treated equally.
It’s meant to prevent broadband providers from throttling, blocking, or discriminating against any online content, regardless of its source.
This means ISPs shouldn’t give any particular traffic preferential treatment.
Net Neutrality has been around since the early days of the internet but has become a sharp focus in recent years as ISPs look for ways to monetize their networks.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took steps to protect Net Neutrality in the United States. However, there’s a lot of debate over whether these regulations go far enough.
The History of Net Neutrality
Below is a quick breakdown of how Net Neutrality evolved over the years.
Pre-2015: The FCC's Open Internet Rules
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC’s) open internet rules ensured broadband services treated all online traffic equally. That meant no blocking or slowing specific sites or services and no creating “fast lanes” for companies willing to pay extra.
The idea was to keep the internet open and accessible, so anyone could innovate and compete without getting permission or paying a toll first.
The strong Net Neutrality rules were popular with consumers and businesses alike but were met with opposition from ISPs. In 2015, a federal court struck down the rules, arguing that the FCC had no authority to impose them.
2015: The Open Internet Order
This set of regulations was passed by the FCC in 2015 to enforce Net Neutrality.
The order stopped internet service providers from interfering with internet traffic or setting up “special lanes” for favored content. It also reclassified every broadband provider as common carriers, subject to greater regulation.
The order responded to concerns that ISPs could abuse their power as gatekeepers of the internet by discriminating against certain content or applications.
The order was essential in protecting consumers’ ability to access the content of their choice.
2017: The Repeal of Net Neutrality
In December 2017, the FCC voted to repeal Net Neutrality protections implemented during the Obama administration. This meant internet service providers were no longer required to treat all internet traffic equally.
They would even charge higher prices for certain traffic.
Eliminating Net Neutrality like this was controversial and sparked a lot of debate. Supporters of the repeal said it would remove burdensome regulations on Telecommunications companies and allow them to innovate and invest in infrastructure. Critics noted that the repeal would harm consumers and stifle innovation.
Post-2017: State Net Neutrality Laws & Regulations
Since the FCC’s controversial vote to repeal Net Neutrality protections in December 2017, several states passed laws and regulations forcing ISPs to treat all data equally. California, Washington, and Oregon were among those that enacted legislation that reestablished many of the former federal Net Neutrality regulations.
Several other states are considering similar measures.
2020: The New York Times v. FCC Ruling
The New York Times v. FCC Ruling was a U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) “fairness Doctrine.”
It required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues of public importance in a fair and balanced manner.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that the Doctrine violated the First Amendment right to freedom of the press. The Court reasoned that the Doctrine had a chilling effect on free internet and speech, as it discouraged broadcasters from airing controversial or sensitive topics for fear of being fined by the FCC.
The New York Times v. FCC Ruling was a landmark decision that helped shape the modern media landscape. It allowed broadcasters to air controversial topics without fear of government censorship and helped establish that the press is free to report on matters of public importance without government interference.
2021: The Save the Internet Act
In 2021, the United States Congress passed the Save the Internet Act, which restored the FCC’s authority to regulate the internet. The Act responded to the 2017 repeal of Net Neutrality by the FCC.
The Save the Internet Act restored the FCC’s authority to enforce Net Neutrality rules and prohibited ISPs from engaging in paid prioritization (meaning they couldn’t charge companies for faster consumer access).
Why Is Net Neutrality Important?
Net Neutrality is important because it ensures the internet remains open and accessible to everyone. It prevents service providers from discriminating against certain traffic or content and giving preferential treatment to others.
This helps ensure that the internet remains a level playing field where everyone has equal access to content and applications.
Arguments for Net Neutrality
The following are arguments supporting Net Neutrality.
- All data would be treated equally. ISPs can’t discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.
- No blocking of legal content. Users can access the websites and internet services they want without getting censored or blocked by their ISP.
- No throttling of internet traffic. Throttling gives internet providers an undue advantage in the marketplace. It could stifle innovation and prevent new companies from gaining a market foothold.
- Increases innovation. It would ensure that all content is treated equally by broadband service providers, allowing for innovation from anyone with the resources without permission from ISPs.
- Keeps the internet free and open. Without Network Neutrality, ISPs could create “fast lanes” for content from companies willing to pay more while slowing down or blocking content from others. This would make it harder for new companies and ideas to get off the ground.
Arguments Against Net Neutrality
The following are counterarguments for Net Neutrality, mostly from ISPs.
- Net Neutrality would reduce revenue for ISPs. ISPs argue that preventing them from discriminating against different traffic limits their ability to make money. This makes it more difficult for ISPs to offer specialized services, like high-speed access for gaming or video streaming, and could lead to higher prices for all consumers without much improvement on the content’s quality.
- Net Neutrality would stifle competition. ISPs argue that Net Neutrality only introduces unnecessary regulations that would damage competition and innovation for them. Without dependable sources of better revenue, ISPs might become more reserved for fear of breaking laws, which would hurt everyone.
- Net Neutrality would increase Internet regulation. This would give the government more control over what content is accessible and limit freedom of speech. It could also stifle innovation, as startups would have more difficulty getting their foot in the door. All of this together makes Net Neutrality a bad idea.
- Implementing Net Neutrality would be difficult. Experts argue that it would be nearly impossible to create and maintain a system where all Internet traffic is treated equally. There are several reasons for this:
- Different traffic (like video streaming and file downloads) require different bandwidths and must be managed differently to avoid congestion.
- It would be tough to police and enforce Net Neutrality rules, given the vast number of Internet Service Providers and technologies involved.
- Some argue that it’s not realistic to expect that all traffic can or should be treated equally, given the differences in users’ needs and preferences.
What Countries Have Net Neutrality?
With most states in the US lacking Net Neutrality after numerous repeals, several countries and regions moved to strengthen their Net Neutrality laws.
Notable ones include:
- The European Union
- New Zealand
If you live in one of these locations, your ISP can’t mess with your speeds or internet access to specific websites.
What's the Future of Net Neutrality?
The future of Net Neutrality is unclear. Most rules already expired in June 2018.
It’s up to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to decide whether to renew them. The FCC could also choose to roll back the existing regulations or implement new ones.
In the United States, the future of Net Neutrality will likely be decided by the FCC, but the issue could end up being resolved by Congress or the Federal Appeals Court.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear the debate is far from over, and other countries are looking at the US before charting their course.
How Could the Repeal of Net Neutrality Affect You?
As an internet consumer, here’s how the repeal of Net Neutrality could affect you.
- You could be charged more for the same services. The repeal of Net Neutrality could lead to internet providers charging more for the same services. Especially if you are subscribed to a service that competes with one offered by your internet provider. For example, if your internet provider offers a streaming service, they could charge you more to use a competing service like Netflix.
- Your internet could become slower. Broadband providers could create “fast lanes” for the content they want you to see and “slow lanes” for everything else. So if your internet service provider doesn’t want you to watch a particular video or visit a certain website, they could make it slow to load. This gives them control over what you see and do online.
- Your privacy could be at risk. If Net Neutrality is repealed, ISPs will have nothing stopping them from knowing everything about you and using that to control what you access. For example, without Net Neutrality, internet service providers can throttle your connection, block websites, and even sell your browsing data.
What Can You Do to Support Net Neutrality?
Here are things you can do to support net Neutrality:
- Educate yourself and others about the importance of Net Neutrality. By understanding everything about it and what may happen if it’s taken away, you can further its preservation.
- Contact your representatives. When you contact your representatives, let them know why you support Net Neutrality and how you think it could benefit the economy, consumers, and businesses. You can also share your story about how you or someone you know was affected by changes in the internet landscape.
- Join or donate to organizations that support Net Neutrality. Organizations like American Civil Liberties Union, Free Press, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation fight for Net Neutrality through legal and political channels. You can show your support by joining them or donating to the fight.
- Show your support for Net Neutrality online. This can be achieved by taking action on websites and social media platforms. You can also sign petitions and join protests to show your offline support for Net Neutrality.
- Speak out against companies that violate Net Neutrality principles. Speaking out against companies that violate these principles could help support efforts to protect Net Neutrality. The same goes for promoting companies that support Net Neutrality, especially ISPs.
How Can a VPN Help Advance Net Neutrality?
While VPNs aren’t a perfect solution for advancing Net Neutrality, they can help in the event of future repeals. VPNs are often used by activists and journalists in countries with restrictive internet policies, as they can provide a way to circumvent government censorship. In addition, VPNs can protect your privacy online by hiding your IP address and keeping your browsing activities private.
The Broadband Justice Act is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives in 2022. The bill classified broadband high-speed internet service as a federally subsidized utility bundled up as part of housing programs.
It attempted to reverse the damaging legislation under the Trump administration that had left the internet industry without consumer protections.
The bill was the work of Senators Ron Wyden and Ed Markey, who sought to codify the bill into law. This was hot in the heels of the Affordable Connectivity Program that was passed by the Biden admin in November 2021.
It will give FCC the mandate to enforce Net Neutrality, which would prohibit ISPs from blocking, throttling, or interfering with internet traffic.
It will increase competition, protect consumers by ensuring public safety and increase broadband accessibility.
Net Neutrality isn’t gone. The Save the Internet Act of 2019 restored much of the Net Neutrality laws stripped away by the 2017 repeal under Trump’s administration.
The Biden administration has already made moves to ensure total Net Neutrality is restored. Currently, there’s an active Executive Order 14036 called Promoting Competition in the American Economy” that has instructed FCC to restore rules that had been done away with.
After a brief period where the Trump administration had done away with most Net Neutrality protection laws, the Biden administration took steps to reinstate most of them. This move began with the resignation of Ajit Pai, who was Trump’s FCC chairperson. This post was taken by Jessica Rosenworcel.
As of October 2022, the FCC voted 3-2 to confirm the rolling back of Net Neutrality regulations that protect consumers against any form of exploitation by ISPs.
If you want to protect internet freedoms, this is the time to take action.
Your voice isn’t insignificant. Vote when the situation calls for it because freedoms are never given, they’re fought for. Share this with your friends and family so they know the importance of Net Neutrality and how they can help!