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Countable Explains: What is Net Neutrality?

by Countable | 12.12.17

Wondering what all this talk (and yellingand threats) about "net neutrality" is about? What about the FCC’s proposal to replace it? Well, until internet service providers throttle the speed to Countable.us, allow us to explain both:

What is Net Neutrality?

The idea of "net neutrality" is that all internet traffic should be free to run at equal speeds. Under current law, internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are prohibited from blocking or slowing certain websites or charging additional fees to visit other sites.

To better understand this theory in practice, consider Comcast, just one of many large companies that deliver the internet to millions of Americans. Comcast is affiliated with television producer NBC. Without net neutrality rules, Comcast would be free to promote NBC’s content over ABC’s, and/or provide slower load times for ABC.com. The internet is currently an open superhighway; without net neutrality, that highway could have fast and slow lanes.

ISPs promised the FCC they’d never engage in such behavior. Still, in 2015, the FCC – led by Obama-appointee Tom Wheeler – classified broadband as a "telecommunications service" and ISPs as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act. ISPs classified as Title II public utilities are barred from:

  • Dictating which websites their clients may access.

  • Throttling the speed of sites.

  • Charging additional fees to visit other sites.

  • Charging customers extra fees for high-quality streaming.

With net neutrality rules in effect, consumers can access everything on the internet at no extra charge.

What is Restoring Internet Freedom?

Ajit Pai, the current head of the FCC, released a "plan to repeal the Obama Administration's heavy-handed regulation of the Internet."

The Restoring Internet Freedom order would replace and reverse the 2015 Open Internet Order, and allow ISPS to:

  • Determine which websites and online services their customers can click on.

  • Give preferential treatment to certain sites.

  • Slow the speed (or block) other websites.

  • Charge consumers additional fees to access certain websites.

  • Charge internet companies (like Netflix) additional fees to provide speedier access to consumers.

An oft-cited analogy is cable TV, where cable operators offer a certain number of standard stations, but charge additional fees to add premium stations (HBO, ESPN, Showtime).

Restoring Internet Freedom would also change who regulates the web. Under the 2015 rules, the FCC reclassified broadband as a utility, which gave the commission the authority to regulate broadband like telephones. Pai’s proposal would shift that authority to the Federal Trade Commission.

"Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet," Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”

In the past, Pai has said that current net neutrality rules unfairly burden the ISPs, especially "mom and pop" ones, and that the government should not preemptively impose regulations on ISPs.

"My concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on [ISPs] big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income, urban and rural areas," Pai said.

What do you think?

Restoring Internet Freedom will be put to a vote at the FCC’s December 14 meeting. With the GOP controlling three of the commission’s five seats, the net neutrality rollback is expected to pass. Whether you support Restoring Internet Freedom or the Open Internet Order, hit Take Action and tell your reps. Or use our widget to contact Pai directly.

—Josh Herman

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