Five Facts on Net Neutrality & Open Internet
The internet has changed the way people find information, conduct business, and keep in touch. For many people, it is an indispensable part of their lives. However, an ongoing struggle is taking place over how the internet is provided and how open it is, a struggle pitting cable companies against “open internet” advocates. The following five facts offer some context on that struggle.
Special thanks to Learning Life content writer Craig Gusmann for helping to research and draft these facts.
1) Net Neutrality
Net neutrality, a term coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, essentially means that the government should treat all data on the internet equally. This means that data cannot be tampered with in any way, regardless of where it originates from. For example, a web page created by a person in Idaho should load at the same speeds as a web page created by a multi-billion dollar corporation in NYC. Advocates of net neutrality argue that it is a vital component of an open internet easily accessible to everyone.
While the internet has been around since the 1970s, and publicly accessible since the late 1980s, then Vice President Al Gore helped advance the idea of an open internet in a 1994 speech he gave to The Superhighway Summit at UCLA. Gore asked, “How can government ensure that the nascent Internet will permit everyone to be able to compete with everyone else for the opportunity to provide any service to all willing customers? Next, how can we ensure that this new marketplace reaches the entire nation? And then how can we ensure that it fulfills the enormous promise of education, economic growth and job creation?”
3) Unnecessary Government Regulation
This is one of the common arguments levelled against net neutrality. According to opponents, net neutrality sets a precedent of government interference, making it easier for the government to control the internet in the future. Opponents also argue that net neutrality harms innovation because for-profit companies that control internet access cannot create “slow lanes” and “fast lanes,” charging internet content providers and/or consumers more for faster service, and hence that companies have less monetary incentive to improve their internet services and infrastructure.
4) Blocking, Throttling and Fast Lanes
On February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to apply Title II of the 1934 Communications Act to internet providers, reclassifying broadband internet access as a telecommunications service and, therefore, similar to a public utility. There are three main rules in the FCC’s decision: 1) no blocking of access to “legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices”; 2) no “throttling” or degrading of any internet traffic; and 3) No “fast lane” prioritization of the content of favored partners or in exchange for payment.
5) The FCC
The Federal Communications Commission “regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.” The FCC is composed of five commissioners, each serving a five-year term. Each commission is appointed by the U.S. President then confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
According to the FCC, “Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party, and none can have a financial interest in any commission-related business.” This, however, does not stop any President from nominating and the Senate from confirming commissioners who will likely vote as they see fit, whether in favor of cable companies, or internet consumers. This is one of the many ways that U.S. Presidents and the U.S. Senate directly impact citizens lives, in this case their internet access. And the changing composition of the FCC as commissioner terms end and new commissioners are appointed by changing Presidents and Senate majorities make internet access an ongoing struggle.
Federal Communications Commission. “What We Do.”
Federal Communications Commission. “Open Internet.”
Federal Communications Commission. “FCC Adopts Strong, Sustainable Rules to Protect the Open Internet.”
Vice President Al Gore. 1994. Remarks to the Superhighway Summit.
Wikipedia. “Net neutrality.”
Wikipedia. “Net Neutrality in the United States.”