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Net Neutrality explained in plain English and what it means to you

Today, the internet is connected to all things. From our cars to our coffee makers, the inter-connectivity of all of our devices has brought on a new age in human civilization that has revolutionized communications in ways we have not seen since the first printing press back in the 15th century.

We rely on the internet to use social media, watch movies, get the news, listen to podcasts, shop, even watch your favorite online viral videos. 

With all the hype about net neutrality lately, you are probably wondering what it means to you. It’s a divisive issue and we try our best to understand what it means to us, the consumer.

Kim’s Take – The FCC Did the Right Thing

On Thursday, the Commission ended the short, two-year, Net Neutrality experiment. Oh and don’t be fooled: There was nothing “neutral” about it. The vote will not become known as what NBC dubbed, “The Day The Internet Died.” In reality, Thursday was the day that the internet as we know was saved.

Over the past 25 years, this new medium of communications, commerce, and entertainment, came from nothing to the massive interlinked network we now take for granted. You have an internet today because there was no so-called “Net Neutrality” back then. No governmental control. No traffic cop. No government censor.

Big Tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon were behind this net neutrality scheme. Their interests? To do precisely what they’ve been doing for the past 20 years, to seize control: Control of what you can see and whose viewpoint will get presented.

Listen to Kim’s Daily Consumer Tech Update for more of her perspective.

Of course, not everyone is going to agree, but let’s take a closer look at what the fuss was all about.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is a principle affirming that all ISP (Internet Service Providers) must treat all data on the internet equally. They must not discriminate against certain services, users, content, applications, or methods of communication. Under Net Neutrality regulations, an ISP is not allowed to intentionally block, nor slow down specific content or websites. Nor is an ISP allowed to charge additional fees for access to certain internet services.

In more simple terms this means that an ISP (e.g., Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable) is not allowed to deny access to, charge extra for, or deliberately slow down an internet related service or website such as Netflix or Facebook.

How is Net Neutrality enforced?

In 2015, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) ruled that Internet Service Providers be regulated as a Title II utility service providing the FCC the tools needed to enforce the net neutrality principles described above. This was in an attempt to “maintain a free and open internet”

“The action that we take today is an irrefutable reflection of the principle that no one, whether government or corporate, should control free and open access to the internet,” FCC Commission Chairman Wheeler said back in 2015.

Opponents to the 2015 decision to apply these regulations to Internet Service Providers argue that the regulations stifle competition and impose a large burden on smaller, local ISPs.

Current FCC Chairman,  Ajit Pai, and deciding vote in the December 14 repeal of the Net Neutrality regulations stated back in 2015, “The internet is not broken, there is no problem here for the government to solve.”

Differing views

People can and do debate all day over whether or not Pai’s 2015 quote is indeed true, and regardless of which side of the debate you stand on, it is important and helpful to hear both views.

The vote on December 14 was as polarizing as any vote could ever be. The 3 to 2 vote in favor of repealing the FCC’s 2015  decision featured many of the same actors as it did two years ago.

Against the repeal

The two dissenting votes, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, asserted that by denying the FCC the ability to regulate ISPs we are preventing the FCC from helping to promote a free and open internet. Clyburn added that the next big internet startup (like PayPal or Facebook) may fail because of a lack of a level playing field and “pay to play” scheming of larger corporations.

“Blocking or throttling – that is something that will never happen, you say. But after today’s vote, who will be the cop on the beat that is preventing them [ISPs]?” Mignon Clyburn asked.

Jessica Rosenworcel echoed her colleague’s tone saying, “Today’s vote puts the FCC on the wrong side of history.”

The two women on the five-member FCC commission both assert that the decision to appeal this regulation will give ISPs the ability to block, throttle, and censor webpages in a way that is harming to the freedom and openness of the United States’ internet.

“This is a stain on the FCC… we have not even held a single public hearing on this decision,” Rosenworcel added.

Both women voted to uphold the FCC title 2 regulation that they voted in to place in 2015.

For the Repeal

The three men on the commission, Ajit Pai (the chairman), Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr all voted in favor of the appeal for the purposes of removing “unnecessary” regulations and spurring competition with smaller ISPs.

First to speak out in favor of the proposal was commissioner Michael O’Rielly stating, “I am not persuaded that heavy-handed rules are necessary to protect us from hypothetical harm.”

The gentleman went on to promote what he referred to as “pay prioritization” stating that he believes that the services and data collection of smart cars and online banking should take priority to “cat videos.”

His colleague Brendan Carr addressed opponents to this decision by saying that the FCC does not control internet rates, it does not prevent an ISP from throttling service, it does not even prevent an ISP from blocking a service.

Finally, the Chairman Ajit Pai spoke before his deciding vote stating that this is not the end of the internet. All this action does is revert regulatory power back to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) from the FCC.

“The internet is the greatest free-market innovation in history. What is responsible for the phenomenal development of the internet? It certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation,” said Pai.

The vote was then confirmed to pass 3 in favor for the repeal of the 2015 Net Neutrality regulations.

What does this vote mean to consumers?

You may be asking yourself now, “What does this all mean to me, the consumer?” That is going to depend on which side of the argument that you trust.

Those in favor of Net Neutrality often cite success stories like Netflix as examples of companies that never could have grown to what they are today if the Internet Service Providers at the time had decided to throttle their service.

Other countries like Portugal that have no Net Neutrality regulations have notoriously charged users extra fees for unlimited access to services such as Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and Twitter.

Net Neutrality advocates say that without regulations, Internet Service Providers will have an enormous amount of power in selecting which content users have access to.

Comcast is a huge organization that owns several media companies, including MSNBC. With no Net Neutrality laws, there will be nothing from preventing Comcast from using their platform to unfairly promote their news service MSNBC, unless users choose to pay the ISP extra for access to other sources like Fox, CNN or the BBC.

This is a real possibility that has come up in other countries around the world, but here is the thing, it is just a possibility. The FCC regulations were only applied two years ago, and ISPs were not unfairly gouging users for access before the 2015 FCC decision. What makes you think that just because they can, that they will? Even though they haven’t in the past.

That would be the argument from those against net neutrality regulations. These regulations are extremely demanding on small ISPs and have a huge stifling effect on competition.

The FCC commission today decided that the 2015 ruling had to be overturned in order to promote “a level playing field,” and allow consumer free markets to, once again, regulate the internet. App background

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