What Is Net Neutrality? The Big Debate Explained
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the latest appeals for network neutrality; a big win for broadband providers, and an ominous glimpse into a future where ISPs have even greater control over media and communications.
The ISPs are winning. The Verge predicts things are going to get worse before they get better.
But, there is hope. Columbia law professor Tim Wu recently announced his candidacy for office in New York. Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” is considered a long-shot for election, but who’s platform argues for an open internet and will bring more attention to the debate.
How did we get here? In the following graphic we illustrate the battle between broadband providers and the internet as we know it:
“just as you are what you eat, how and what you think depends on what information you are exposed to.”
― Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
Your ISP and the Battle for Net Neutrality
Browsing, streaming, downloading or emailing – these are all activities we can do online without discrimination.
However, internet service providers (ISPs) want to create a ‘tiered’ internet – where they can charge different prices for different types of traffic. Many people are against the idea of companies checking in on what they’re accessing, and so beings the battle over net neutrality.
- 1934 – Win for Neutrality: US Communications Act grants Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authority to regulate interstate and foreign communications, ensuring they remain accessible to all.
- 1980 – Win for ISPs: The US Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Computer II Policy creates separate rules for “basic” (such as phone lines, airlines and roads) and “enhanced” communications services (anything that combines a basic service with a computer). Enhanced services were excluded from federal regulation.
- 1989: Tim Berners-Lee proposes concept of World Wide Web.
- 1992: First audio and video distributed over the web.
- 1996 – Win for ISPs: US Congress passes Telecommunications Act. “Basic” and enhanced” services redefined as “Telecommunications Carriers” and “Information Services Providers”. ISPs remain exempt from common carrier rules such as neutrality.
- 2002 – Win for ISPs: Cable broadband defined as information service, freeing it from federal regulations.
- 2003: Law professor Time Wu coins phrase ‘Net Neutrality’.
- 2005 – Win for Neutrality: FCC Chairman Michael Powell sets out ‘Four Freedoms’ of internet use.
- Access legal content
- Use applications
- Attach personal devices
- Obtain service plan information
- 2005 – Win for ISPs: DSL and wireless reclassified as “information services”, removing important consumer connectivity protections.
- 2007 – Win for ISPs: US ISP, Comcast accused of drastically slowing BitTorrent speeds. It won its case against the FCC in 2010 because it was not a “telecommunications provider” and so not subject to Open Internet rules.
- 2009 – Win for Neutrality: EU adopts legislation that states anyone signing a contract with an ISP must be informed of bandwidth or connection speed restrictions.
- 2009 – Win for Neutrality: Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act calls for $7.2 billion investment in broadband infrastructure with a stipulation on openness.
- 2010: Some UK operators accused of blocking P2P sharing and video streaming.
- 2010: UK ISP, BT restricts peak time usage of BBC iPlayer and YouTube.
- 2010: US ISP Verizon and Google try to cut a deal that is condemned by net neutrality groups.
- 2012 – Win for Neutrality: Websites such as reddit and Wikipedia draw public attention by blacking out their sites in protest at SOPA and Protect IP bills being discussed by Congress.
- 2012 – Win for Neutrality: EU Parliament says telecommunication companies are ‘strangling traffic’ and demands neutrality legislation.
- 2013 – Win for Neutrality: After intense pressure from public interest groups, AT&T stops blocking FaceTime app.
- 2013: UK ISP, Orange reveals it makes Google pay for search traffic.
- 2013 – Win for Neutrality: Netflix accounts for 30% of US peak bandwidth consumption. Its streaming service is now being ‘throttled’ as it seeks to negotiate an agreement with ISPs.
- 2014 – Win for Neutrality: EU approves regulations to solidify net neutrality.
- 2014 – Win for ISPs: The regulations are immediately attacked by leading telecommunications trade associations, claiming they will create legal confusion, distort competition and hinder innovation.
- 2014 – Win for ISPs: The FCC Open Internet rules overturned by court during battle with Verizon, with critics saying they stifle business freedoms of internet providers. Effectively ISPs can now charge websites such as Facebook, Amazon and Google for reaching their customers.
- 2014 – Win for Neutrality: 1 million+ Americans sign petitions demanding the FCC reclassify broadband services as a telecommunications service and so subject it to common carrier regulation.
At the moment, neither side looks close to backing down. Until this situation is satisfactorily resolved, the future of a free and open internet remains at stake.” …there are few goals more essential in the communications landscape than preserving and maintaining an open and robust Internet.” — Former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski “Anybody who expects to use pipes for free is nuts!” — Edward Whitacre, AT&T
Download this infographic.