California Joins Battle to Salvage Net Neutrality

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net neutrality

net neutralityRecently New York and Montana have chosen to resist the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeal of net neutrality, and now California is joining their ranks as the state legislature with a potential law that is closer than the others to reinstating net neutrality.  It directly defies the FCC ruling by forcing ISPs to follow net neutrality rules, whether or not the company has a government contract. Furthermore, the bill strictly prohibits deceptive marketing about internet traffic or content to ISP customers.

Net neutrality activists are concerned about the ability of broadband companies to act as gatekeepers, particularly with video-streaming services.  State attorneys around the country are arguing that the FCC rushed to make this decision and ignored outcries from millions of Americans, but there is controversy over just how many of the comments were real since a significant amount of fraudulent comments have been found.

Here are details about the February 2015 Net Neutrality Law that was Repealed

  • Internet service providers (ISPs) were categorized as telecommunications services under Title II of the Communications Act.  These rules also applied to mobile internet service.  
  • It set a standard for cable and telecom companies that required them not to interfere or disadvantage consumers or companies.  Slowing down the service was only permissible for a nonbusiness-related “reasonable network management.”  
  • It prevented  broadband internet providers from stifling or preventing traffic to some users in order to offering higher paying customers faster priority access.  In other words, it kept the playfield level for all.
  • With this law in place, FCC strengthened their ability to address complaints about unfairness related to “interconnect” agreements, which are deals made between ISPs and content providers.  

Basis for repeal on December 14, 2017  

The argument is that the net neutrality laws were never needed in the first place and it was doing fine prior to 2015 when the law was created. Those opposing net neutrality claim that the problem never really lied with ISPs blocking content, because the issue has been more about folks having a lack of access.  (It is worth noting that there have been some companies that blocked their customers from accessing apps from competitors and some also implemented policies to promote certain services over others.) NPR reports that the FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, has been against the Net Neutrality law from the beginning because he has seen it as “micromanaging the internet”, and that it creates a barrier for investment and innovation.

Broadband companies have expressed that they don’t intend to interfere with web traffic as it is.  

So, What now?

  • The FCC removed net neutrality and can no longer enforce rules for it
  • Enforcement now goes to the Federal Trade Commission, who does not prevent violations with regulations, but punishes violations as they occur
  • The internet is no longer designated under Title II, so the FCC can no longer regulate for net neutrality.
  • Now internet providers get free rein to block, direct, and prioritize web traffic towards content however they please.  They just have to publicly state it.

There is a concern about the smaller tech companies, especially startups, because if ISPs make special “priority” traffic deals, then they could lose out. Larger companies used to argue for net neutrality, but lately they have grown more quiet, and this has caused some concern as well. The Internet Association’s response to broadband companies’ statements about keeping the internet fair was basically, that this offered little comfort. There is concern about the fact that there is no single authority in place to protect consumers.  Those in favor for the repeal say that people are making up scenarios to worry about, and they need to just relax.  

We have a long road ahead of us full of legal battles and potential changes to our internet experiences. Will we start to experience an internet slanted towards serving those with deeper pockets or will it be kept fair for all?  Only time will tell.  Promises, promises.