Net Neutrality: What's Happening in DC?

by Susan Gentz / December 11, 2017 0
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Background: What is it?

Net Neutrality, or the “Open Internet Order” is a Federal Communications Commission regulation that governs, protects and maintains open, uninhibited access to legal online content. The method to achieve uninhibited access means that broadband Internet access providers are not allowed to block, impair, or establish fast/slow lanes to lawful content. This means that internet providers are required, through government regulation, to essentially offer the same services for all consumers without tiered costs.

Tiered costs speak to two issues. One example is, if a large company wanted to get content online and target to more viewers, they could pay a significant sum to ensure their content was accessible, while the worry is, if net neutrality is reversed, is that smaller organizations, schools, and nonprofits would lose out on access to viewers because they couldn’t afford to get their content into the hands of viewers. The second issue is in regard to fast/slow lanes. There is a concern that without net neutrality, broadband providers would give fast speeds to companies that can pay for it, and slow speeds for those who can’t.

According to a fact sheet from the FCC, “In 1996, President Clinton and a Republican Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, stating that the U.S. would “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet . . . unfettered by Federal or State regulation. This bipartisan approach was tremendously successful. The private sector invested about $1.5 trillion, connecting hundreds of millions of Americans. Consumers were protected and benefited from innovation. And America’s Internet economy became the envy of the world.”

Two years ago, the FCC implemented a new regulation — the Open Internet Order, on a party-line vote. The current administration and chair believe that the allowance of government to regulate protocol for the Internet (telling providers what they can and can’t do in their business) lead to the decrease of investments for broadband networks, halted the deployment of new and upgraded broadband infrastructure, jobs were lost, and online privacy was weakened because Title II stripped the Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) of authority over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices.

What’s happening now?

According to the FCC, it "has proposed to return the U.S. to the bipartisan, light-touch regulatory framework under which a free and open Internet flourished for almost 20 years. The FCC's May 2017 proposal to roll back the prior Administration's heavy-handed Internet regulation strives to advance the FCC's critical work to promote broadband deployment in rural America and infrastructure investment throughout the nation, to brighten the future of innovation both within networks and at their edge, and to close the digital divide.”

The headlines are now sharply divided, stating that scrapping the laws will either end the Internet as we know it, by allowing providers to offer services based on the tired cost system, or encourage innovation and investment.

The side that thinks net neutrality is the only way forward tend to believe that providers are the entities that should not be trusted, while the side that favors an end to net neutrality tends to believe that government is the entity that should not be trusted. This means, that those in favor of net neutrality do not trust providers to provide equal access without a regulation from the FCC, and those who favor scrapping the regulation do not trust the government to not filter content.

Chairman Pai believes that the net neutrality laws were a heavy overreach from a government agency, and has spoken many times on eliminating the regulation in order to allow Congress to write and enact a law that the agency can then enforce through rules.

The vote to scrap the net neutrality regulations from 2015 is scheduled for December 14, but there is a group of 27 senators that are requesting Pai to delay the vote; however, it is important to note that those requesting the delay are all supporters of net neutrality and members of the minority party.

What does this mean for education?

Just as the headlines show two sharply divided camps on the mere philosophy, there are two divided views on how regulations might impact education. One side believes that the free market will spur web content delivery, innovation, and investment for education with no further government regulation, while the other believes that without the rule, schools will not have access to the needed Internet speed or content, which ultimately would slow down the content delivery needed to keep students engaged.

There are also concerns over how the lack of government regulation could stifle innovation from startups, if they are concerned that they can’t “pay to play” for their content to be seen or found.
If the FCC votes to enact the “Restoring Internet Freedom Act”, Congress could still move on the issue. If this vote passes (which is likely on a party-line vote, the same as it was enacted) it does not automatically mean the end for net neutrality, but it could mean a long road to be reinstated. Either through a change in Presidential party, or changes in leadership in both the House and Senate.

Keep checking back as we’ll keep you updated on the vote when it happens, delayed or on time, and let us know what you’re doing in your districts to prepare for this potential change.

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Susan Gentz
Susan is passionate about transforming education for every student and works on content for the center. She loves policy, running and biking, and is a proud Iowa native.