What to know about net neutrality

Last week, two big events happened in the world of net neutrality. First, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to move forward to discuss new regulations that would govern the Internet as a utility.

If that change occurs, people could be forced to purchase Internet plans according to how much they use the Internet and how fast they want their Internet speed to be. If regulations like this were to go into effect, we would buy Internet packages in the same way we purchase our phone plans.

Secondly, in response to intense criticism and advocacy work by groups such as Fight for the Future and Public Knowledge, as well as the general public, the FCC opened the conversation on net neutrality for input from the public for a standard 120 day comment period.

Their major question is this: Do we regulate Internet in a way that would allow broadband providers to manage online traffic in a “commercially reasonable” manner, or do they classify Internet regulations under stricter rules using the so-called “common carrier” section of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934?

Before we all leave comments on the FCC’s website, we need to know what this distinction means. The concern with the clause in FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal, that broadband companies should be able to regulate their traffic in a “commercially reasonable” way, is the implication that these companies could charge higher costs to companies that want more traffic through their websites.

Many members of Congress, as well as the general public, are concerned that this will create a disadvantage for smaller companies and as start-ups. On the other hand, Title II would make these regulations stricter and would prevent broadband companies from charging websites more or less money depending on how much exposure they want.

Naturally, broadband companies are arguing against Title II regulation. They say that some websites, such as Netflix, take up so much of their bandwidth that they should be able to charge them higher prices. We have already seen this happen in recent deals Netflix made with Comcast and Verizon (look for rising Netflix prices pretty soon as a result).

But advocacy groups are in support of Title II, which they say would prohibit these companies from taking advantage of online businesses and would instead create a fairer environment. In other words, Title II would prevent the kinds of deals that just affected Netflix and will soon affect our wallets.

There are still some people arguing that the Internet shouldn’t have any regulation at all. However, the recent deals between Netflix and those two broadband providers were a wake-up call; the Internet is such an integral part of our lives that regulations are inevitable. Our responsibility now is to educate ourselves and provide feedback on what our idea of net neutrality is at the FCC’s website.