What is Net Neutrality?

Amanda Lotz: Net neutrality is a term that describes a policy for how information is transmitted over the internet. It requires that all data (emails, websites, files, etc.) be treated the same way. Such policy prevents internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing any kind of data or particular sites in a way that would advantage others. This prevents ISPs from giving advantages to sites or content they own or from receiving money from companies to allow easier or faster access to their content, which is called paid prioritization.

What will the vote on December 14 mean?

AL: The vote will rescind the rules established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015 that classified broadband access to the internet as a telecommunications service. If broadband access is a telecommunications service, it’s regulated under Title II, which means ISPs must treat all content equally. Title II prohibits ISPs from favoring one company or service over another. If the current proposal to rescind the rules passes, it would give ISPs greater control over what companies and users can do online.

Wasn’t this issue already decided recently?

AL: In early 2015, the FCC enacted rules that established net neutrality. But because the policy was established by the FCC, rather than an act of legislation, the rules can be reversed by the new FCC commissioners appointed by President Trump.

Why is Title II so significant?

AL: Title II establishes the internet as a certain kind of technology—a “common carrier.” In U.S. law, common carriers cannot discriminate by providing advantages to one company over another. Much of common carrier law developed around the railroads in order to prevent rail companies from striking deals with certain manufacturers to distribute their goods but not those of others because this would create an unfair advantage.

The rules before those established in 2015 (the Open Internet Order of 2010) were overturned in court because the FCC does not have the right to require neutrality unless technologies are categorized as Title II. A key part of the FCC’s 2015 rulemaking was to classify internet service under Title II.

If the FCC reverses its decisions about Net Neutrality, what can consumers expect?

AL: The internet service providers—the companies we pay money to each month in order to access the internet—have lobbied hard for this change. They want to be able to go to the companies that use the internet—Netflix, Facebook, Google, etc.—and also have them pay the ISP. This is likely to be in the form of “fast lane” or other preferential treatment for their sites and services. If the companies pay, they will likely pass those costs on to consumers. Once fast lanes are established, consumers might notice that sites that can’t afford to pay or don’t pay are slower to use or difficult to access. This is particularly concerning for governmental, educational, and other non-commercial sites that lack revenue to afford these fees.