A simple belief with a complicated name, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all content equally. In other words, ISPs cannot charge premiums for internet access and block, throttle, or prioritize certain broadband. It sounds fair enough, but these principles were not enacted until 2015 and are already under attack.
During the ordeal of implementing net neutrality in 2015 under then President Barack Obama, political and legal battles emerged, signifying a future change that would revolutionize internet regulation. Ultimately, a Court of Appeals upheld the regulations that still stand today. However, this battle has re-emerged on an entirely new field with different players this time around.
Ajit Pai, the President Trump-appointed head of the Federal Communications Commision since January of this year, wasted no time in squashing net neutrality by introducing a proposal to rescind these regulatory oversights. Pai argues that continuing heavy-handed regulations could discourage companies from branching out Internet access to low-income areas.
Pai and other opponents of net neutrality further that “nothing is broken” without net neutrality. Allowing ISPs to charge more for services that use more bandwidth equates to more money for ISPs to invest in faster networks, indicating the belief that current net neutrality rules are stifling growth and innovation.
Despite their very public support of net neutrality rules, large Internet Service Providers such as Verizon and Comcast insisted that the government should not have the authority to implement these forceful changes in a series of lawsuits challenging the FCC’s authority in 2015.
However, not all Americans seem to agree with the views of ISPs on a free and open Internet. In fact, many postulate that the creation of multiple tiers of accessibility would have detrimental impacts on individuals and businesses because it would allow larger businesses to dominate the marketplace by paying for higher speeds, ultimately harming smaller entities.
The backlash against Pai’s actions is enormous. More than 800 startups sent a letter explaining that without net neutrality ISPs would have the far-reaching power of picking the “winners or losers in the market.” Beyond businesses, individuals also seem to care and have left more than four million public comments to federal regulators on this specific issue.
Dubbed with a high-tech sounding and geeky name, net neutrality may sound like a dull and uneventful issue, but the ensuing discussions over the next year will not only affect U.S. government regulation and businesses but also Internet access for individuals.