February 9, 2015

The FCC Pushes For Net Neutrality


(Photo: “Macbook Light Shift,” via Flickr user Milind Alvares via Attribution 2.0 license)

Imagine that every time you picked up the phone to order pizza from Dominos, your telephone provider messed with your connection because Pizza Hut is paying them to route their calls first. Crazy, right? (Not the part about ordering Dominos, although there are definitely some better options out there.) Now imagine that the same situation is true of your Internet provider. The few big brands (Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, etc.) would essentially block all online content that is unfavorable to them, block applications that compete with their own, or increase their profit by forcing developers to pay more to avoid having their data blocked or slowed down.

The struggle against this hypothetical scenario becoming reality is a very real concept called net neutrality. And the enforcement of net neutrality, preventing Internet providers from editing content or stifling Internet speeds, is an issue that has plagued many Internet users, although no issue was as public as the rift between Netflix and Internet giants Comcast and Verizon in 2014. Netflix paid Comcast a hefty sum to get faster download and streaming speeds, and a finger pointing game ensued when a similar deal with Verizon yielded few results. Honestly, it doesn’t matter where blame is here. What does matter is the ethical issue behind a company like Netflix being put in a position where it has to essentially pay a bribe a provider for faster service.

All of this relates to the decision that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made on February 4, 2015, which made the Internet a public utility:

“Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

Making the Internet a public utility is a huge decision, one that tilts the scales of the digital communications world in the favor of net neutrality advocates. Immediately following Wheeler’s decision, AT&T and Verizon have announced that they will immediately sue to appeal the FCC’s groundbreaking ruling. Keep your eyes and ears open for the verdict here. That is, if the solution is actually published online without being modified.