What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality refers to the treatment by internet service providers (ISPs) of all content, from all sites and businesses, as equal. This means that a broadband provider cannot make services speeds faster for sites controlled by companies with whom they have business relationships, or slower for competitors or critics.

The Threat: A Net without Neutrality

Telecom companies already charge for access to the Internet; now they are claiming the right to charge for “preferred status,” which would result in one company’s content loading faster than another’s:

William L. Smith, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp., told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc. (click here for full story)

In effect, this would create a two-tiered Internet, destroying the web as we know it to make one preferred high-speed lane (with plenty of tollbooths), and a dirt road for those who can’t afford to upgrade. Some content will load faster — and some perhaps not at all — based on deals made behind closed doors. Companies like Comcast could leverage these new laws in order to make using other companies’ services inconvenient or altogether impossible, all in order to promote their own products and agendas. And although it represents a true worst-case scenario, an Internet without network neutrality would be vulnerable to outright censorship, if these companies decide to make it more difficult to access information they — or those who pay them for preferred status — find inconvenient, such as content from advocacy groups, whistleblowers or political opponents.

We’ve seen this kind of discrimination in action:

In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a contentious labor dispute.¹

(See also: http://ctech.link/net-neutrality)

The Opposition: Big Telecom Front Campaign

Considering the enormous economic, technological and legal implications of network neutrality, the fine points in this debate can certainly be confusing. On top of all that, a telecom-funded opposition group has launched a counter-campaign to further obfuscate the issue. Hands off the Internet mimics the appearance of a grassroots campaign, but counts among its sponsors AT&T and BellSouth. The site garners support from many who fail to understand that their message is not in the interests of Internet users.

Their view is that net neutrality amounts to “government interference.” They have even put forward the argument that keeping the Internet non-discriminatory amounts to compelled speech, and therefore violates the telecommunications industry’s First Amendment rights!

The telecom companies would have us believe that net neutrality is an unnecessary form of government interference. However, neutrality was long the standing rule and in fact government intervention was only required when companies began to take advantage of the lack of codified regulation. In 2007, Comcast was admonished by the FCC for interfering with the service speeds of peer-to-peer sharing site BitTorrent. The decision was later overturned, as there was no regulation in place. In 2015, the FCC voted 3-2 to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Common carrier rules have applied to many industries over the years and, in ths case, essentially prohibit the owner of an open network from discriminating against information by halting, slowing, or otherwise tampering with the transfer of any data.

NCAC would not typically support a measure to “regulate” the transmission of information in any way. But in this case, some government intervention is necessary to protect free expression and access to information from interference – not from the government, but from for-profit corporations.

Click here for a debate between “Hands Off the Interent” Co-Chair Mike McCurry and Amazon.com’s Paul Misener.

The Solution: Preserving Net Neutrality

 

Currently, net neutrality is governed by the FCC. In early 2017, the FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai, announced plans to roll back the regulations passed in 2015. Activists for a free and open Internet have advised calling your Congressional representative, signing petitions and finding any and all ways to make your voice heard in opposing the roll back of net neutrality. https://www.battleforthenet.com/

Senator Olympia Snowe:

The idea that brings us together is a free and unfettered Internet. It’s vital we preserve, not undermine, the extraordinarily democratic technological network – over which content providers from the largest corporations in the biggest cities in the world to single individuals in rural towns have equal opportunity to reach millions of Internet users.

Senator Byron Dorgan:

It’s essential that we preserve Internet freedom. The open architecture which now exists, and which allows everyone fair access to any site on the Internet, without gatekeepers, must be preserved. That is what our bill would do – preserve Internet freedom, which is at the very core of what makes the Internet so important, and something that enriches the lives of millions of Americans.