Net Neutrality Rules: Know What the Fuss is all about

Net neutrality has become a controversial issue of late, with the American lawmakers, Internet service providers and consumer advocates locking their horns over the new set of rules that the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has proposed. What had started out as a campaign to make the Internet more open and fair for everyone has ended up becoming a debate that is full of accusations, contradictions, and criticism. If you aren’t really sure what exactly is going on and what the fuss is all about, you’ve arrived at the right place for a short and simple explanation.

A Half-baked Campaign to Open the Internet

In order to understand what’s happening right now, it’s important that we begin from the point when it all started. Back in 2010, the FCC introduced the Net Neutrality rules that banned Internet service providers from intentionally blocking or slowing down web traffic to certain content and applications. The intended motivation behind this move was to curb unreasonable discrimination against any web traffic or legal applications. While the full set of rules applied on wireline carriers, the wireless carriers were only banned from discriminating against blocking access to the applications or services of their competitors. Intriguingly, “commercially reasonable” discrimination was still allowed, while only potential “pay-for-priority” deals to help content companies deliver their traffic faster was prohibited.

Appeal and New Plan

In January 2014, Verizon filed a lawsuit against the Net Neutrality rules in an appeals court. The court ruled that the FCC cannot treat Internet service providers as a public utility and therefore cannot force them to treat all web traffic equally. The verdict was met with strong criticism from the campaigners for the freedom of speech. Instead of appealing against the verdict, the FCC decided to revise the previous Net Neutrality rules, this time taking both the wireline and wireless carriers into consideration equally. The proposed new set of rules would prohibit the Internet providers from blocking or impeding users’ access to any website or legal application, and would further require them to disclose just how exactly are they managing traffic on their networks. However, the provision for “commercially reasonable” deals to give priority to certain Web traffic has been included, though the FCC is seeking opinion on whether “some or all” pay-for-priority deals should be presumed illegal. Furthermore, it also asks about the reclassification of broadband providers. As part of the process, the new regulations are up for public comment until September 10.

The Grievances of Consumer Advocates

Naturally, the consumer advocates, including the tech giants like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, are not too happy with the proposed rules, contending that these rules would favor certain content companies at the expense of user freedom and experience. Internet service providers could offer an unfair advantage to companies that are willing to pay big bucks for “fast lanes”. In order to prevent this discrimination and enforce stricter regulations, consumer advocates are pushing for reclassification of Internet providers as public utilities, giving them the same status as phone and cable companies.

Internet Providers’ Opposition to the Proposed Rules

Stakeholders that opposed 2010’s Net Neutrality rules have criticized the new set of rules as well. According to them, the regulatory body is trying to overreach into their business dealings. They fear that stricter Net Neutrality regulation can affect their operations and sustainability as it could discourage investment in the expensive network infrastructure.

FCC’s attempt to bring down the walls of Internet has gotten it trapped in a whirlpool that it may not have an easy time escaping. With neither consumer advice groups nor broadband providers and their sympathizers satisfied with the proposed set of Net Neutrality rules, the debate seems to be headed towards a deadlock.

This guest post was written by Kat Kay, who recommends www.stealthmate.com for monitoring software including cell phone tracking, parental controls and employee monitoring.