A federal appeals court has backed the decision to ditch net neutrality, and President Donald Trump is touting the victory; others warn net neutrality is key to an open internet. Now, does anyone remember what net neutrality was?
President Donald Trump hailed the DC appeals court’s decision to uphold the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 move to axe net neutrality as “a great win for the future and speed of the internet” that will “lead to many big things, including 5G” in a tweet on Monday. But what is net neutrality, exactly, and why does anyone care?
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Put simply, without net neutrality, your internet service provider can throttle access to the free version of YouTube, pushing an “upgrade” to a paid service in exchange for quicker video load speeds.
The FCC, led by a former Verizon lawyer, dropped Obama-era net neutrality rules in 2017, deregulating companies like Verizon and Comcast that provide broadband internet service. Net neutrality rules barred these companies from speeding up access for sites and customers they liked and throttling or even blocking access to sites and customers they didn’t. Providers were legally blocked from manipulating internet traffic based on whether a customer or site had paid for ‘better’ service. Internet providers were held to the same rules as telephone service providers.
Net neutrality’s backers worried that without the rules, providers would create a two-tiered system that gave those who could pay quick and unrestricted access, while those who couldn’t would be limited to sluggish internet ghettos. The rules force carriers to treat all internet traffic equally – a crucial safeguard in an industry in which many broadband providers have a monopoly or near-monopoly on customers in a certain region. Opponents of net neutrality insist that providers that act badly will merely drive their customers to competitors – forgetting that in many areas, there are no competitors.
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The process of repealing net neutrality rules in 2017 was tainted by malfeasance. A New York state probe found that nearly half of the public comments submitted to the FCC while they were considering rolling back net neutrality were fake – and a Stanford University study found the vast majority of the real comments were in favor of keeping net neutrality. Even the House, despite hefty donations from telecom companies, has come out in favor of net neutrality, passing a bill in April to restore the Obama-era rules.
There is a bright spot in last week’s ruling, however. It allows states to pass their own net neutrality laws and prevents the FCC from interfering. California has already passed its own net neutrality law, which the Justice Department immediately pounced on and which it will be allowed to keep if the appeals court ruling remains in effect.
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