Yes, we won the Internet on February 26, 2015. But, first things first.
What is Net Neutrality?
“Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.— Senator Ted Cruz on Twitter
For educated folks, The Oatmeal has explained net neutrality beautifully with an example. Simply put, net neutrality is all about information on the Internet being treated equally. Which means, a movie on Netflix or a video on YouTube has the same priority as any other video from a small startup. The cable companies like Comcast or Time Warner cannot charge money from any company to speed up their videos streaming and slow down feed from companies that do not pay.
In the beginning …
Everything was hunky-dory and information on the Internet was free. Free as in air, not free as in beer. And all information was considered equal. This was the default so we never paid – or had to pay – attention to concepts like “net neutrality”. Everyone received the same content on the Internet and all content from all companies was treated equally.
Then this happened …
Netflix started slowing down for Verizon and Comcast customers. Netflix, being the most popular online TV and movies provider, consumed about 25% of the total bandwidth of the Internet connection in 2012, which rose to 35% in 2014 during peak TV viewing hours. So, some service providers started asking Netflix to pay more for more bandwidth usage. Netflix declined and these service providers started throttling Netflix.
Because money is king; to hell with customers
In February 2014, Netflix agreed to pay Comcast, and later to Verizon, to stream its videos at higher bandwidth. Then the streaming speed went up again.
Verizon vs. FCC
Federal Communications Commission is a US government agency that oversees and regulates all communications, including TV and radio airwaves and wire and cable transmissions. In 2005, the FCC had issued guidelines to promote net neutrality. These were not formal rules, so the ISPs were not legally bound to obey them. In 2011, Verizon sued FCC and asked the court to overturn the open Internet rules. The court ruled in favor of Verizon on the grounds that the Internet providers are not classified as common carriers and as such, FCC does not have authority to regulate them.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996
In 1934, congress enacted the Communications Act to regulate the wire and radio communications. The Act was amended in 1996 into the Telecommunications Act and the Internet was included under its purview. The Act made a distinction between “telecommunications service” and “information service” wherein the telecommunications service are more stringently regulated than information service, which included the Internet service providers. The Act was intended to foster competition among the providers but due to consolidation in the industry, only a handful of providers remained operational in each region. Verizon won the lawsuit on the grounds that it was an information service provider and hence, cannot be regulated by FCC, which was the right decision.
What is Title II of the Telecommunications Act?
One of the seven titles of the Telecommunications Act, Title II outlines the provisions of “broadcast services”, which includes “Common Carriers”. Title II stipulates that common carriers can’t “make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.” In February, FCC voted in favor of reclassifying the ISPs as Common Carriers, which means the broadband Internet service will be treated as telecommunications service and not information service.
The fight ahead
President Obama has openly and strongly supported net neutrality. The final rules have not been announced; however, there has already been an outcry from the industry, which was expected. However, many leaders of the Republican party have strongly spoken against the rule change. Lawsuits would undoubtedly follow once the rules are announced, and it might take years before things are stable again.
Until then, we, the people, have won the Internet. People: 1 – Douchebags: 0.