What is Net Neutrality and why the FCC is receiving backlash

Companies able to speed up, slow down or block sites on a whim. It's a complicated issue you've probably seen all over the web.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his agency have been receiving a less than friendly reaction from Internet sites, including Reddit and Facebook, following the FCC announcement Tuesday that it would seek to remove "Net Neutrality" from it's current protected status.

Many online shared their fears that without Net Neutrality, the Internet would quite simply get worse. Many expressed fears that Internet service providers (ISPs) would now have complete control over Internet speeds and would be able to speed up, slow down or even block content as they see fit.

According to University of Texas Professor Prabhudev Konana, those fears could be warranted.

"Net Neutrality by definition says the net is neutral to any type of content and any type of provider," he said. 

Professor Konana explained that under the current system enacted by the Obama administration in 2010, the FCC treated the Internet similarly to a utility, preventing companies from prioritizing or slowing content for any reason.

If the FCC's proposal to remove those rules is approved in December, those limits would be removed too.

"The FCC chairman now wants to say, 'Why should the government interfere in any of these things? Let the markets work,'" Konana said. "In some sense what they're saying is that it incentivize's the ISPs to invest for the better of consumers, sort of. If I remove the regulations, Internet service providers can prioritize certain types of services or probably charge certain consumers to access certain things so they can get better services."

Right now, Net Neutrality means that businesses and Internet users are connected at top speeds no matter who they are or what the content. Internet providers act like pipelines moving info between both.

Without Net Neutrality, Internet providers can slow, increase, even block some of the pipelines pretty much as they see fit.

"The best example is, Verizon acquired Yahoo," Konana said. "So if anyone is trying to access Google through Verizon network, then potentially, Verizon can throttle the Google page or completely deny it."

Konana said the FCC has put in provisions that while these prioritizations can occur, companies must report them publicly.

"The only good part of this if it goes through is they have to be transparent that this service will be throttled or slowed down," he said."

Those who want Net Neutrality gone, like the FCC, say it stifles competition and customers can simply change companies if they don't like it.

But according to U.S. Census numbers regarding broadband, nearly 80 percent of American households don't have more than one option.

"What option do consumers have," Konana asked. "Just to give you an example, in the area I live, I have only one broadband service provider. What do I do? You have no option but to accept it."

While the proposal would open the door for ISPs to make their own decisions, Konana said there are checks built into the system that would lower the likelihood of throttling or blocking of sites.

"When I access something, my traffic is not flowing in only one network," he explained. "It is flowing in multiple different networks. Now who pays whom? Because if it is flowing on say Comcast network, part of it and then goes onto AT&T network and then comes to me. I pay AT&T for Internet service, but there is a part of the traffic that is going through other networks. Now, what if somebody doesn't pay their bill and they start to throttle your content? It's not easy to, it's not as simple as some people are making it out. It's much more complex."

He also said that when asked, most major ISPs have claimed they will not throttle or at least promised to be transparent about their actions.

Konana said he's worried how this will affect consumers and small businesses who may rely on the Internet for business, but said at this point the only thing we can really do is "wait and see" what happens.

If you're concerned about Net Neutrality, you can contact your congressman here in Michigan:

  • Congressman Justin Amash 202-225-5144
  • Congressman Bill Huizenga 202-255-4401

Since Republicans control both houses of Congress they have the most influence right now. Lawmakers have the ability to repeal  FCC decisions, using a congressional resolution of disapproval. 

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