The Battle Over Net Neutrality

We all thought any more discussion about net neutrality was done and over with back in 2015 when the Federal Communications Commission, FCC, in the U.S. adopted Net Neutrality rules that keep the internet free and open. It was a fierce battle leading up to this decision and now the FCC is reversing its decision and removing the net neutrality rules. So what does this really mean?

My wife is an avid Facebook user—strictly for her profession—and she started asking me about net neutrality. As you may know, I live in Canada, so I was curious to know why she even knew about net neutrality given her vocation is teaching specialized arts and craft techniques, which has little to do with our tech-y media and entertainment world. Many of her Facebook “friends” were up in arms and super concerned about the changes in net neutrality and how it would affect their daily lives including their Facebook activities. Digging deeper it was pretty clear people were only picking up a single thread about net neutrality. This is unfortunately really common now; social media is increasingly an echo chamber for like-thinking people, without even a hint of the balanced view that professional journalists strive to report.

Net neutrality is all about ISPs (internet service providers) not being able to block, or for that matter even slow down, specific internet traffic to their customers. Without net neutrality, competitive services could be slowed down or even blocked by ISPs. For instance, an ISP that is owned or associated with a media company could block or slow up competing television services that are using OTT for distribution. For that matter, the reverse could happen where media providers that rely on OTT could indeed pay the ISPs to give their services higher speeds, thus slowing down their potential competition.

Getting back to my wife’s Facebook “friends” hyped-up concerns, opinions aired over the Internet could be blocked if the ISP has opposing views, stifling free speech online. Wow—here we are back to freedom of the press! Many smaller lobby groups are afraid they will lose their voices.

So why would the FCC make a 180 degree turn? They call this “Restoring Internet Freedom” moving back to encourage rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom. As Jim Burger, who is an attorney in Washington at Thompson and Coburn explains it, the current administration believes “less regulation is good.” I have spoken with several colleagues including those whose companies have a foot in the Internet and the media business who believe this 180-degree turn is good—however they declined to go on record and do an interview for IABM TV.

As you can see, there are very strong opposing views on this topic. Thinking about this on a broader level, Net Neutrality has been considered very important for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs to compete against the big guys who could afford to bias the Internet service providers’ through-puts. Further, overseas companies wanting to provide services within the US. .could be blocked. Either way, this new “freedom” would effectively actually reduce freedom of choice for buyers. After all, who can do any business these days without having an internet presence? This could happen in other countries too, protecting their own services; many countries outside the US. .are watching this closely as they decide on their own communication regulatory framework. 

Stan Moote is the CTO for the International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers.