During a press conference leading Democrats announced a bill to fix Net Neutrality rules. The bill titled the “Save the Internet Act”, states that the rules pertaining to Net Neutrality that the FCC ordered repealed in late 2017 must be restored. The bill was championed by several prominent Democrats including Speaker of the House Nancey Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In the press conference, Speaker Pelosi called it “hopeful” that “a full 86% of Americans support Net Neutrality”. Speaker Pelosi didn’t cite where that number came from. However, I found remarkably similar information on Statista
A brief description of Net Neutrality
If you are not sure what this Net Neutrality business is all about, here is an overly simplified explanation. It all starts with how we access content on the internet. Access to content on the internet is usually a two-part operation. The first part is you the consumer, the other being the content provider. When you visit any website or streaming service your computer sends a request through your Internet Service Provider’s network. That request then continues onto the ISP of your content provider. The content provider then responds with the content you requested. As it stands now it doesn’t matter what lawful content you are accessing. The content you requested transfers between the parties unfettered. Net Neutrality is this very concept. At its core, the goal of Net Neutrality is to ensure that broadband providers can’t unfairly influence or hinder access to legal content.
Why is Net Neutrality important?
In today’s communications landscape there are many good reasons to have Net Neutrality rules in place. The foremost of these is the fact that many of America’s largest ISPs are also content creators. Without Net Neutrality ISPs could use their positions to favor their own business units. An example would be Comcast, who is the nation’s largest broadband provider. In addition, they are a cable television provider, and owner of entertainment powerhouse NBC Universal. Without Net Neutrality rules in place, ISPs could give content owned by their other business units preferential treatment. ATT was accused of this back in 2016.
Furthermore, without rules, ISPs could limit or slow access to competing content providers and services. They could also start charging those competing content providers large sums of money for access to their networks, icing out those who don’t (or can’t) pay to play. This could lead to a lack of customer choice and give them an unfair business advantage. Finally, content providers could start a form of censorship, in which they could interfere with content they disagree with.
The legislative battle
In 2015 the Obama Administration’s FCC issued ruling 15-24. This ruling classified broadband providers as Common Carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. This put broadband providers in the same category as telephone providers. This meant that just like telephone companies, they could not hinder communications between two parties. The ruling also granted the FCC greater regulatory powers to enforce Net Neutrality rules. This was all undone in 2017 by FCC ruling 17-166, reversing the great work done by the Obama Administration. In 2018 Congress attempted to remedy the situation through legislation. The Senate narrowly passed a resolution overturning the FCC’s decision. Unfortunately, it was defeated in the then-Republican-controlled House. Only 3 Republicans voted in favor of the resolution.
In October of 2017, I wrote a slightly biased article about the battle for Net Neutrality. My opinion has not changed. The fact is, we still need neutrality rules to keep ISPs honest. Unfortunately, in the time since I wrote that article, there have been a few setbacks. The good news is that Net Neutrality is still a very important issue to many Americans.
Congressional Democrats, it seems, agree. The political landscape has also changed since then. As a result of this change, Senator Schumer feels the bill has a chance of passing this time around. “Republicans have a second chance to right the Trump administration’s wrong,” said Schumer. I hope that the Senator is correct. It is my belief that Net Neutrality rules are vital to protecting the free flow of information on the internet. I will be watching this one closely.