By Kerri Barber
Net Neutrality. You may have heard the term or seen it on social media over the last few years. There have been several key moments in recent history where the debate has risen above the noise and caught your eye, but you may not fully understand the nuances. Here is a basic primer of what Net Neutrality is and how it affects you.
Big companies who manage the connections and equipment for your internet want the right to limit your access to content. Some are asking to do so to be able to charge you for access to locations and others want to make sure you are not able to go to their competitor sites or content. Think of it like 'parental controls' Verizon and Comcast can use to decide what you can access and which brands you can purchase from, provided you pay the extra fee, of course.
Opponents of this idea cite the origins of the internet itself as having been developed through public tax dollars. They also point to the favorable tax status for these companies and added incentives these providers have enjoyed on taxpayer dime to help keep the networks strong and refreshed to new technologies such as fiber and so one. Meanwhile, these same companies charge high fees to smaller re-sellers for VoIP technology who are also facing increased tax burdens at the same time. (Verizon paid a federal tax rate averaging just 12.4% in 2016 on $121 billion in profit.)
Additionally, these big companies have been able to limit their own competition by restricting their re-seller arrangements and are making plans now to capitalize on what they anticipate will be a rollback of the Open Internet rules. Therefore, they argue, companies like Verizon and Comcast have already reaped extensive benefits and should not be allowed to limit public use of what has been partially publicly funded technology. These people want to FCC to designate the Internet as a common carrier class.
Common Carrier Status
The Federal government acts as a mediator between the states for commercial matters and has the right to regulate interstate commerce. As part of this regulation, they can designate specific transit methods and industries by a “common carrier” status, benefiting the good of many. Through common law, common carriers are:
- required to serve upon reasonable demand, any and all who sought out their services;
- held to a high standard of care for the property entrusted to them; and
- limited to incidental damages for breach of duty.
In return, these industries enjoy special incentives and protections. For Example, the U.S. Navy has, as its core function, the protection of oil and material transport ships via international sea transit lanes. This law also provides for consumer protection and is what allowed the federal government to mandate the end of the monopoly of the Bell Telephone company, creating the ‘Baby Bells” during the 1990’s to expand market competition and reduce rates.
Proponents of a free and open Internet cite historical innovations that have joined common carrier status through widespread adoption across the county and became vital to commerce as a whole.
The regulations at the core of the issue are defined in the Open Internet Rule, called the Bright Line Rules. They are:
- No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no "fast lanes." This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.
Why Should You Care
How does all of this affect you? Imagine if the number of media outlets around the entire country were owned by just a few companies, let’s say just 6 companies, which is actually the case. What if those six companies did not want you to have access to something unless you paid a fee to do so? What if they blocked that content altogether, is that ok with you?
Now imagine that your internet no longer allows you to view ANY national news. What if you are restricted to just the new sources owned by the same company that is providing your Internet connection? Is that ok with you?
What if your business was reliant on Internet access and suddenly was faced with higher fees in the course of conducting that business or not allowed to operate online at all unless you complied with specific media company policies such adoptions of ‘Religious Freedom’ mandates or a prohibition of specific words or opinions?
Proponents of open Internet or Net Neutrality say that all of these examples constitute a consumer tax by the same companies that are already getting preferred treatment because of the services they provide to the county which have become commonplace, and in many cases, necessary. It is essentially double dipping, triple dipping in some cases, and has the very real possibility of limiting free access to the content you want to reach.
What can you do now?
Tell the FCC what you think. For a very short time, those who wish to file individual comments may submit them electronically at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/
Snapshot: The 15 Billionaires who Own ALL the Media in the U.S.
- Michael Bloomberg - Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Media ($45.7 billion)
- Rupert Murdoch - News Corp NWSA -2.83% (120 Newspapers, 21st Century Fox, News Corp)
- Donald and Samuel "Si" Newhouse - Advance Publications (Wired, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Vogue plus cable TV and newspapers)
- Cox Family - Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Journal-Constitution and six other daily newspapers, more than a dozen non-daily publications, 14 broadcast television stations, one local cable channel and 59 radio stations)
- Jeff Bezos - The Washington Post (Amazon)
- John Henry - The Boston Globe
- Sheldon Adelson - The Las Vegas Review-Journal
- Joe Mansueto - Inc. and Fast Company magazines (Inc., Fast Company)
- Mortimer Zuckerman - US News & World Report, New York Daily News
- Barbey family - Village Voice
- Stanley Hubbard – Hubbard Broadcasting (13 TV stations, including a number of ABC and NBC news affiliates in the Midwest, and 48 radio stations. PodcastOne)
- Patrick Soon-Shiong - Tribune Publishing Co. Recently sold to Sinclair Broadcast group for $13.9 Billion 42 television stations and other assets would make the largest station owner in the country even bigger.
- Carlos Slim Helu - The New York Times
- Warren Buffett - Berkshire Hathaway B +% regional daily papers 63 daily newspapers and weeklies in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama from Media General for $142 million.
- Viktor Vekselberg – Gawker and Columbus Nova Technology Partners
The Fight for an Open Internet: A Brief Timeline
Open Internet Rule becomes law that allows wireless providers to limit internet speed/use based on what kind of content users are attempting to access, but they can’t block access to competitors content. This meant that the public had a right to visit any site they chose.
Verizon files a lawsuit over the law, unhappy with the compromise offered.
U.S. Government is found to be paying Verizon, AT&T to provide data on consumer usage.
A Federal Court hears the complaint filed by Verizon and strikes down Open Internet Rule from 2010, saying he FCC could make such a regulation if it classified internet service providers as common carriers, like telephone providers. A Common Carrier application to telephone companies was applied by Federal law.
The FCC adopted the Open Internet Rule, revised version.
FCC Report shows AT&T and Verizon violated Open Internet rules.
January: Trump Administration dismisses head of FCC. Trump reported to have asked Rupert Murdoch to submit names for FCC Chairman. Murdoch reported to also want conditions put on the AT&T-Time Warner merger.
Ajit Pai is appointed FCC Chairman by the Trump Administration, AT&T CEO praises the pick, anticipates rollback of Open Internet rules.
February: 2017 FCC rules to allow Verizon, AT&T to divide service areas for favorable profits.
March: Media companies deepen ties with Trump Administration, cashing in on campaign donations.
April: Ajit Pai, FCC Chair announced plans to roll back net neutrality rules told Reason magazine, “Going forward, my hope is that in a more free market, light touch environment, we can figure out what the right regulatory framework is to preserve those core protections of a free and open internet.”
May:FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the lone Democrat left on the board, fires back at the chairman asking him to, “Take his own advice on Net Neutrality” by posting his previous comments in a PDF.
The FCC has voted to reinstate the "UHF discount," which will "clear the way for Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc. to purchase Tribune Media Co.," according to the Los Angeles Times.
The FCC posts a call for input to revise the Open Internet Rule