Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know

Next week the Senate is expected to vote on a measure that could kill the Internet as we know it.

The political process surrounding this “resolution of disapproval” — which will have a negative impact on small business owners, entrepreneurs, students, activists and everyone else who depends on the open Internet — is opaque and complicated.

In October we held an hour-long Q&A session on Twitter to field questions about the upcoming resolution, which would strip the FCC of its ability to protect the open Internet. (Click here to see whether your senator supports or opposes this dangerous measure.) We decided to break down exactly what this fight is all about, and why it’s essential that the FCC have clear authority to enforce Net Neutrality rules.

The questions varied from the basic — “What is this resolution all about?” — to more complicated queries about whether the FCC has a duty to protect openness on the Internet. Below are a few of them.

Questions have been edited for clarity and are followed by our (expanded) answers. In one case we grouped two similar questions together and provided just one response.

Q: So what is the Senate’s “resolution of disapproval” anyway?

A: The “resolution of disapproval” is a measure in Congress that would strip the FCC of the authority to enforce Net Neutrality rules or any other safeguards for the open Internet. It’s a hard-line response to the Open Internet rules the FCC passed late last year. As we’ve noted before, those rules contain serious loopholes (including a lack of protections for the wireless Internet), but the FCC still must have the authority to enforce them. Sadly, opponents of Net Neutrality argue that the FCC should not have any ability to protect the open Internet. If passed, this resolution would make it impossible for the FCC to step in if, say, Comcast blocks the fair and legal sharing of content online (and yes, Comcast has done this).

That means that there would be no Net Neutrality protections at all if this resolution passes — unless Congress passes actual legislation to safeguard the Internet, which is an incredible long shot (see below).

Q: The FCC’s role is to regulate a public good (like wireless spectrum). Why shouldn’t it be allowed to enforce Net Neutrality?

A: It should. But the Bush-era FCC decided to give up its authority to properly regulate broadband networks, after which the public urged the FCC to reclaim that authority to create strong Net Neutrality rules.

Then, in late 2010, the agency passed its Open Internet rules. Unfortunately — and despite the urging of millions — the agency passed up the opportunity to address concerns over its authority to regulate broadband. As a result, it opened itself up to legal challenges.

Now, as if on cue, Verizon has sued to block those rules.

Meanwhile, in the absence of legislation (given the current political polarization in Congress, a Net Neutrality bill is a tough sell), the public continues to insist that the FCC must stand up to protect the open Internet and strengthen its ability to do so.

If you want to learn more, go here to read our paper about this “reclassification” debate, and here to read the FCC’s breakdown of how broadband services are treated in the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Q: Without the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules, how protected/unprotected does Free Press believe the Internet will be from ISP interference?

A: Without strong Net Neutrality rules, ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will most certainly try to block, slow down or interfere with online content (many of them have said outright that they’d like to do so). The FCC’s current rules protect the wireline Internet to a degree, but the wireless Internet is left largely unprotected (see the next question for more details).

Q: Does Net Neutrality apply to cellphone providers like AT&T and Verizon?

A: The FCC’s rules only barely apply to mobile broadband. They need to be made much stronger. Here’s why: By 2015, more people will access the Internet via mobile devices than via laptop or desktop computers. But the Internet on your phone or tablet is virtually unprotected under the FCC’s new rules. AT&T and Verizon have the ability to block almost any mobile use at will. As mobile data consumption explodes, it’s outrageous that the mobile Internet is at risk of such discrimination.

Q: Does Net Neutrality help spur investment? How?

A: Studies like this one from the Institute for Policy Integrity show Net Neutrality has huge economic benefits — and investment would suffer without it. According to this study, “Internet infrastructure and content work together to generate huge economic benefits for consumers — possibly as much as $5,686 per user, per year.”

And a European study showed that the open Internet provides massive economic benefits to the tune of €155 billion (about $216 billion).

Q: Who is behind all these attacks on Net Neutrality?

Q: Which special interests are known to have been involved in the preparation of this “resolution of disapproval” on Net Neutrality?

A: AT&T, Verizon and their friends flood Washington with lobbyists and campaign cash to get the policies they want — and this resolution is in part a result of that influence.

In addition, an extreme anti-regulatory fervor in Washington is also threatening the FCC’s Open Internet rules. This is especially concerning given the broad support Net Neutrality has enjoyed until now.  

Q: Since its beginning the Internet has treated all content equally. That’s the way it should be. Period.

A: We agree. Not only should all content be treated equally, but all applications should as well. We should be able to access whatever we want, with whatever devices we want, without big companies getting in the way.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good