On February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to impose net neutrality rules and reclassify the Internet from an “information” service to a “telecommunications service.” Prior to these recently imposed rules, Internet service providers (ISPs) were able to provide quicker access and load content at a faster rate on certain websites, if it was in their financial interest to do so. For years, these ISPs have been receiving compensation from advertising companies, in exchange for providing faster access to certain websites where their ads would be displayed. On the flip side, ISPs were also able to slow the access to competing websites that are not in their financial interest to support.
Stuart Posin, Director of Administrative and Academic Technology, described Internet space as a, “fixed resource.” He related ISPs to pipes, which have a confined amount of space to work with to provide access. However, prior to the recent law passed by the FCC, these ISPs were able to metaphorically expand their piping, in order to cheat the system and therefore improve their financial standings.
“By paying more, ISPs were essentially paying for more piping to deliver their services,” Posin said. He also explained that ISPs have their own political agendas, which they try to accomplish by altering the quality of users’ experience on certain news sites versus others. For instance, if a user has a good experience using certain news sites due to faster access, he or she is more likely to continue visiting that site. As a result, advertisers and service providers get paid more. “They want you to buy into their ecosystem,” Posin said.
By using this technique, ISPs were previously able to help websites essentially brainwash users into thinking that their site was better than competitors’ sites. The question that has been a political controversy for years, therefore, has been whether or not ISPs and content providers have the right to pay in order to limit or exclude competitors from the Internet.
President Obama has been a supporter of net neutrality since 2008 and backed the recently imposed rules by the FCC. An article published by The Hill reported that with Obama’s support, the FCC wants to “treat Internet service like a utility in order to prevent major companies such as Comcast or Verizon from slowing, blocking or creating “toll roads” for people’s access to the Internet.”
The article quoted FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler who said that “the Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet; it’s simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field.”
According to an article published by The Guardian, Wheeler, while giving a speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, compared the FCC’s regulation of the Internet to the first amendment.
“There is no more regulating the Internet than the first amendment regulates free speech in our country. If the Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform in the history of the planet, can it exist without a referee?” Wheeler said.
However, most large telecommunication companies do not agree with Wheeler and the FCC’s regulations. With these recent changes, many cable and wireless companies believe their profits will drop and that the new law will only benefit services that do not usually pay for the streaming of their content, such as Netflix and YouTube.
While Democrats generally support the FCC’s plan, most Republican lawmakers do not. Many Republicans have worried that the FCC – a legally independent agency – has lost its legitimacy due to the new Web rules.
According to an article published by TIME, Jeb Bush, a likely 2016 presidential candidate for the Republican party, said during a speech that the FCC’s recently passed law on net neutrality was, “one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard.”
In addition, in an article published by US News, Senator Rand Paul, another potential presidential candidate for the Republican party, said that he “views the commission’s rules as an unnecessary expansion of government power that damages the free market.”
Debates between political parties over the FCC’s stance on net neutrality continue to be a major political debate, as many telecommunication companies such as USTelecom and Alamo Broadband are filing lawsuits against the FCC.