Net neutrality what is it? Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003 as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier. On February 26, 2015, the United States FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service and thus applying Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act of 1934 to Internet service providers.
There has been extensive debate about whether net neutrality should be required by law, particularly in the United States. Debate over the issue of net neutrality predates the coining of the term. Advocates of net neutrality such as Lawrence Lessig have raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content (e.g. websites, services, and protocols), and even to block out competitors. On the contrary, opponents claim net neutrality regulations would deter investment into improving broadband infrastructure and try to fix something that isn't broken.
U.S. regulators on February 26, 2015, approved the strictest-ever rules on Internet providers, who in turn pledged to battle the new restrictions in the courts and
Congress, saying they would discourage investment and stifle innovation.
The rules, which will go into effect in coming weeks, are expected to face legal challenges from multiple parties such as wireless, cable and other broadband companies and trade groups that represent them.
Experts expect the industry to seek a stay of the rules, first at the FCC and then in courts, though the chances for success of such an appeal is unclear.
The new regulations come after a year of jostling between cable and telecom companies and net neutrality advocates, which included web startups. It culminated in the FCC receiving a record 4 million comments and a call from President Barack Obama to adopt the strongest rules possible.
The agency's new policy, approved as expected along party lines, reclassifies broadband, both fixed and mobile, as a more heavily regulated "telecommunications service," more like a traditional telephone service.
In the past, broadband was classified as a more lightly regulated "information service," which factored into a federal court's rejection of the FCC's previous set of rules in January 2014.
The shift gives the FCC more authority to police various types of deals between providers such as Comcast Corp and content companies such as Netflix Inc to ensure they are just and reasonable for consumers and competitors.
"This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept."Tom Wheeler, The FCC ChairmanOn the passing of the Net Neutrality law
Net neutrality is a slogan that would freeze innovation in the core of the InternetBob Kahn, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol
Internet providers will be banned from blocking or slowing any traffic and from striking deals with content companies, known as paid prioritization, for smoother delivery of traffic to consumers.
The FCC also expands its oversight power to so-called interconnection deals, in which content companies pay broadband providers to connect with their networks. The FCC would review complaints on a case-by-case basis.
Republican FCC commissioners, who see the new rules as a government power grab, delivered lengthy dissents. Their colleagues in Congress hope to counter the new rules with legislation. All five FCC members are expected to testify in the Senate on March 18, 2015.
Large Internet providers say they support the no-blocking and no-discrimination principles of the new rules but that the FCC's regulatory path will discourage investment by lowering returns and limiting experimentation with services and business plans.
Some smaller telecoms, such as Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc, have argued new rules will have little impact on investments. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler agreed.
"The (Internet service providers') revenue stream will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday," said Wheeler at the FCC meeting.
"I have spent a lot of time in public policy, and today is the proudest day of my public policy life," he later told reporters.
Legal experts and industry lobbyists say corporate lawyers are waiting for the FCC to publish the specifics of the rules, a document more than 300 pages long. Lawsuits can be filed after the rules are recorded in the Federal Register, likely days later.
Wheeler sought to address in the new rules some Internet providers' concerns, proposing no price regulations, tariffs or requirements to give competitors access to networks.
Cable and telecom shares saw muted reactions on Thursday. They had jumped earlier this month when Wheeler confirmed long-bubbling expectations that he would seek a tougher regulatory regime, with some adjustments to the network needs.
So how will Net Neutrality effect you and what happens next?
1. NET NEUTRALITY IS WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE. With few exceptions, the cable and wireless companies that provide much of the nation's broadband already operate under the idea of net neutrality. This means they don't discriminate among similar types of web traffic, and don't intentionally slow or block data.
The FCC decision was intended to make sure that the Internet as we know it doesn't change. Regulators say this was important because some providers had signaled an interest in manipulating their network traffic, potentially entering into paid deals with sites like Netflix to move their content faster. But these efforts never got very far, and many providers say they don't want to upset consumers by violating basic net neutrality principles.
2. THIS WILL EFFECT YOU. JUST NOT ANYTIME SOON. The FCC put the Internet in the same regulatory camp as the telephone, regulating it like a public utility. That means whatever company provides your Internet connection, even if it's to your phone, will now have to act in the public interest and not do anything that might be considered "unjust or unreasonable." If they don't, you can complain and the FCC can step in to investigate.
But broadband providers are expected to sue. It's likely they will ask the courts to delay implementation of the rules pending judicial review. And if a judge agrees, the legal wrangling could slip well into the next president's first term.
Even if a judge grants a stay on the rules, it's unlikely that Internet service providers would start throttling web traffic or creating paid fast lanes. Most consumers don't like the idea, and companies would face a fierce public backlash.
3. THE CABLE COMPANIES LOST. The cable and wireless companies that offer broadband say the worst part about the new rules is that they aren't predictable. Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai compared it to playing a game in which white flags would arbitrarily be thrown on the field. Pai and industry officials say this kind of uncertainty will affect how Internet providers operate. Providers will be much less willing to offer new services to consumers if they think the FCC might get involved, they say.
4. INTERNET ACTIVISTS ARE HAVING A MOMENT. Small Internet-based companies won a fight in Washington without deep pockets and lots of lobbyists. They did it by drumming up support among average Americans, who flooded the FCC with a record-breaking number of public comments. As an executive at Mozilla put it, "millions of people stood together as citizens of the Web to demand those strong protections." President Barack Obama gushed that the FCC decision "wouldn't have happened without Americans like you."
5. NEXT STOP IS CONGRESS. While broadband providers turn to their lawyers to mount a legal protest to the FCC rules, Republican lawmakers say they will push for a legislative fix. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is expected to lead this fight, starting with March 18 hearings. However, the FCC regulations give most Democrats exactly what they wanted in the first place. And Obama likely would veto anything else. So it's unclear whether Thune or others might be able to find any momentum before the next presidential election.