By: Alex Supko
On December 14th, 2017, the Federal Communication Commission(FCC) voted 3-2 to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order. This order is largely referred to as ‘Net Neutrality Rules’ for the protections it offers consumers in reference to internet access. On January 4, 2017, the FCC issued an updated Declaratory Ruling of the Restoring Internet Freedom order, which you can read here, as well as see the affirming and dissenting opinions. For clarity, those who voted for the ruling are FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, and Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly, and those against are Commissioners Mignon Cleburne and Jessica Rosenworcel. The updated order, spanning 539 pages, is light on specifics, but here are some basics. The FCC would relinquish control of broadband privacy and give it to the Federal Trade Commission, add transparency rules on Internet Service Providers(ISPs) to report on certain practices, and remove oversight on throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization.
What has many who support net neutrality worried is the removal of the oversight mentioned above. There have been many comparisons to throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization as allowing for internet fast lanes. In essence, the change would allow ISPs the possibility of changing how you access the internet. Some pages would be slowed down (throttling), some you could pay for faster access (paid prioritization) and some would be blocked all together. A solid example of paid prioritization is the 2010 Google-Verizon deal that was in the works. The article discusses a deal that Google and Verizon were working on which would “[A]llow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content creators are willing to pay for the privilege”.
Another example, involving both throttling and paid prioritization, is this 2014 deal between Netflix and Comcast. The deal ensured that Comcast subscribers would get reliable access speed to Netflix. As some of you might remember, prior to this deal Netflix customers had been reporting a slowdown from certain ISPs including Comcast and Verizon. Customers noted incredible slowdown of service, sometimes making Netflix “pretty much unusable”. The slowdowns gained significance “after last month’s federal appeals court ruling that struck down Federal Communication Commission rules known as net neutrality”. Although it should be noted that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and others say that the new transparency rules will prevent ISPs from participating in practices like the ones mentioned above.
A possible hurdle to the enactment of this order change is the U.S. Congress. As of Tuesday, January 9, 2018, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution being pushed by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) has reached 43 co-sponsors. You can read the press release here. You might be asking: What exactly is the CRA and why does it matter? Basically, the Congressional Review Act allows for Congress, with enough votes, to make a regulatory change like the FCCs Restoring Internet Freedom Order not go into effect. Once the order is submitted by the FCC to Congress, the Senate has 60 days to act before the rule goes into effect. It’s important to note; however, that passing the Senate is only the first step in passing a resolution. As the CRA states, “No measure can be presented to the President for approval until both houses have agreed to it in identical form.” This means both the House and Senate need to pass identical resolutions, before being signed by the President for the order to not go into effect- if he signs it at all.
Regardless of what happens in the coming months, we can be certain that something is going to change. If the FCCs order goes into effect, it’s unclear exactly how ISPs will change their practice. Will it be overt, or subtle, like the Netflix case mentioned above? Will businesses be given priority over everyone else, making some lose access to services and websites all together? Or will legal or congressional action keep the current landscape of net neutrality in effect? We’ll be sure to find out.
Have comments on the post? Feel strongly for or against net neutrality? If you work with the public in a library, how are you communicating about net neutrality, if at all? Let us know in the comments!
Alex Supko is a librarian for Baltimore County Public Library in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also a member of Maryland Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Panel. He believes passionately that everyone deserves open access to the internet, and that your personal privacy is important.