A huge effort to ensure the continuation of net neutrality, the FCC’s Open Internet Order passed today after much debate. The Open Internet Order reclassifies the internet as a utility, rather than as an information service. While that may sound like a relatively minor, semantic distinction, it is actually a really big deal.
What this effectively means is that the internet will now be treated the in the same way as other utilities, and subject to the same rules. In the past, internet service providers like Comcast could simply ignore the regulations of the FCC. Mobile internet service providers, Verizon and AT&T, had even fewer restrictions on them.
What was the Net Neutrality Debate?
Leading up to the vote, there was a considerable amount of debate regarding the Open Internet Order. Opponents of the Open Internet Order claim that it will stifle innovation by burdening the technology market with too much regulation. Indeed, it is the very notion of increased regulation that has many conservatives opposed to idea. Furthermore, opponents claim that the internet has been working fine up to now with very little governmental oversight, so why fix what isn’t broken?
And that is the crux of the argument. While the internet isn’t broken, per se, there are a lot of problems that regulation may be able to fix. For example, without the guarentee of net neutrality, ISPs can intentionally slow down, or throtle, the internet speeds of companies that use a lot of data, are in direct competition, or both. This is exactly what happened last year between Comcast and Netflix, which ended with Netflix paying off Comcast to stop slowing down their service.
There is also the issue of internet monopolies. Indeed, in many communities in the United States, there is only one ISP available. This is accomplished either by shady deals with local municipalities, or through unfair licensing fees charged to competitors for use of the network infrastructure. This lack of competition means that the United States has some of the worst internet connectivity in the developed world.
These are major problems, and the Open Internet Order might just be the first step toward fixing them.
How this Effects You
With the FCC able to regular ISPs, the can make a lot of long necessary changes, such as:
- Preventing ISPs from blocking or throttling traffic to certain services and webpages
- Not allowing companies to pay a premium for an “fast lane”, giving them an unfair advantage in the market
- For ISPs to disclose network management processes
- Ensure that ISPs license network resources as reasonable rates, which could help break up some of the monopolies and prevent new ISPs from having to build redundant networks
Perhaps the most important change of the Open Internet Order is the fact that the FCC can now respond directly to consumer complaints, and investigate the ISPs. In the past, they have been unable to do this, leaving customers with little recourse.
Will this solve all the issues with the internet? Don’t count on it. It is, however, a step in the right direction. Of course, it’s also not a done deal, as several companies are already mounting lawsuits to challenge the Open Internet Order.
Only time will tell how effective this will be, or if it even survives the various legal challenges in the near future.