On Wednesday, February 4th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Tom Wheeler, proposed to reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service and to regulate it under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. His proposal would cover both wired and wireless Internet service providers. Currently the FCC has limited regulatory power over U.S. cable and other companies that provide broadband data services, and it has adopted rules to ensure that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) adhere to a set of the net neutrality principles that it defined. In reality, the FCC does not directly regulate the Internet or Internet Service ISPs for anything beyond these principles.
Over the past few days, both arguments for and against net neutrality have filled the press, championing their respective positions and forecasting the possible effects the decision will have on future Internet services and infrastructure. This article (Part I and Part II) addresses the implications that Wheeler’s proposal will have on net neutrality.
What is net neutrality?
As defined on Wikipedia, “Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers and governments should treat all information traffic on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.” Along this line of thought, in 2005 the FCC issued the following set of net neutrality principles stating consumers are entitled to:
Access the lawful Internet content of their choice.Run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.Connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.Competition among network providers, applications and service providers, and content providers.
The FCC added that this set of principles prohibits ISPs and broadband companies to participate in unfair pricing, prohibit any blocking of legal content and prohibit unreasonable charges including any attempt to create fast and slow lane traffic. However, Tom Wheeler has recently stated the FCC has no intention to regulate the consumer rates charged by broadband providers.
In short, net neutrality basically states that all Internet Traffic should be treated equally. On the other hand, the opposing point of view basically argues that ISPs should be free to manage their networks, including traffic, in a manner that will enable them to maximize their customer service and profitability.
Of course, there has been extensive debate over whether or not the net neutrality definition like the one above should be codified in law.