The Federal Communications Commission recently made a landmark decision that could change the face of the internet. As the internet is now ubiquitous in everyday life (we use it for work, for school, for activism, for commerce, for communication, for fun, etc.) it’s important for you to know how this ruling affects you. The end of net neutrality could change how you access the internet, what you access, and how quickly you access it. And, if you have a website, it could affect when your website is seen.
As you likely observed, the decision resulted in a wave of news coverage and partisan debate. Politics aside, here’s what you need to know about the ruling on net neutrality – and what happens next.
Net Neutrality is the belief that the internet should be provided to users without restriction. Proponents of net neutrality argue that we should be able to access anything on the web, and Internet Service Providers (ISP) should treat all users and content equally.
On Dec. 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 in favor of the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order.” This ruling reinstated the internet as an “information service,” (repealing the 2015 “Open Internet Order” that treated the internet more like a utility).
Since the internet has become as essential to American life as other utilities (water, electricity, gas, etc.), the 2015 order sought to treat the internet more like a utility, and prevent ISPs from blocking content or controlling speeds. The goal was to preserve an open internet.
The 2017 order repeals that “utility” classification, removing the intended protections. The goal of the 2017 ruling is to spur growth and innovation that the FCC considered impeded by the 2015 regulations.
The biggest fears are that, by removing the previous rules to preserve net neutrality, ISPs now have the ability to block lawful internet content, “throttle” or slow down content as they see fit, or provide internet “fast lanes” for big businesses.
The FCC intends to prevent abuse of power by ISPs through “transparency, combined with market forces as well as antitrust and consumer protection laws.” The 2017 order gives authority to the Federal Trade Commission to enact protections against “unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.” The FCC will also require ISPs document any blocking, throttling or prioritization. This won’t necessarily prevent them from blocking, throttling or prioritizing, but it will make it easier for consumers to know when it is happening.
A number of ISPs and other internet services have spoken out since the order, many committing to maintain an open internet or fight the new regulations.
Pay attention. Then, speak up.
The concerns about net neutrality ramifications are hypothetical at this point. And, if change does occur, it will likely not happen immediately.
If you start to see changes to your internet access that are a result of this order, and you’re not happy with them, contact your congressional representatives. While the FCC is an independent commission, your representatives will want to know how the rule is affecting you and can argue on your behalf. You can also contact the FCC directly to have your voice heard. Likewise, if you are pleased with the changes you should share your thoughts with your representatives.
The ruling is especially important if you have a website or plan to have one. Pay attention to your analytics, stay on top of ISP disclosures that could affect your online presence, and make sure your representatives know your stance.