Should large companies be able to pay for "fast lanes" on the Internet, or should every website and online service deserve the same access to the Internet regardless of size or power? No matter what side you fall on, it's clear that the issue of net neutrality isn't going away. And, some pretty big players have thrown their weight behind both sides of the argument. In fact, President Barack Obama just released a short video urging the FCC to classify Internet service as a utility to preserve net neutrality.
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The video isn't surprising - the president has been a supporter of net neutrality for a long time now. He wants the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers under Title II of the Communications Act so that it'll be regulated like your telephone service. He believes this will stop Internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and others from selling fast lanes to companies that can afford it and also keep Internet costs low for most Americans.
But let's back up for a moment: why all the fuss about Title II? The juiciest, most pertinent bit lives in subsection 202, which states that common carriers (in this case, ISPs) wouldn't be able to "make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services."
But, not everyone agrees. Verizon is arguing that classifying the Internet under the outdated Title II would hurt "open Internet, competition and innovation."
Still not clear about net neutrality? Here's an example using your phone company: what if your phone company treated your call differently depending on who you are calling? For instance, dial a big brand name store that paid your phone company for better service and you'd get a fast clear connection. But when you call a local mom and pop store down the street, the call might take forever to connect, and when it finally does, it is scratchy and hard to hear. Over time, which company might you be more likely to do business with? While net neutrality is all about whether or not online services can pay for better Internet connections to their customers, I used the phone company example to illustrate the difference.
So, what is the FCC going to do? That's not clear yet. The agency is going through millions of public comments submitted by citizens just like you to try and figure out the best way to move forward on the issue of net neutrality.
The president can't force the FCC's hand because it's an independent agency. His video and opinions on the subject are just recommendations as the FCC tries to make its decision. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler emphasized that in response to the video.
"Like the president, I believe that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth. We both oppose Internet fast lanes. The Internet must not advantage some to the detriment of others. We cannot allow broadband networks to cut special deals to prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition and innovation. As an independent regulatory agency we will incorporate the President's submission into the record of the Open Internet proceeding."
At this point, we've just got to wait and see what the FCC decides to do. Even if the agency decides against net neutrality, it won't be the end of the Internet. You'll still be able to get to your favorite websites or even create your own websites for millions of Internet users to see. In fact, you might even be able to stream things like Netflix a whole lot faster.