The term Net Neutrality is one that you may have been hearing batted around recently. In fact, you have probably heard that the Supreme Court recently passed down a decision that may have long lasting and deep ramifications for freedom on the internet. That decision revolves around the concept that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) should be permitted to prefer certain traffic and slow or deny the rate at which certain data is delivered.
In practical matters, this means that telecommunication companies and ISPs like AT&T and Comcast can limit how quickly a site like Ring of Fire will load. They can choose to deliver other sites more quickly, giving preference to sites and content that they prefer.
The decision revolves around the language used to classify the type of business those types of companies. Over a decade ago, the FCC made a decision to classify companies like Verizon as “information service providers” rather than “telecommunications carriers”. This difference, this distinction is what has barred the FCC from being able to enforce what are known as “common carrier” regulations on them.
If you doubt that the telecom companies will use their ability to throttle traffic to and from sites that they do not prefer, you need look no further back than 2007 to see that it is true: they will. In 2007, users of bittorrent websites on comcasts network suspected that they were having their data rates throttled. Something as mundane as Robb Topolski using the service to transfer barbershop quartet music resulted in his internet service being slowed. In response, the FCC ordered that the company stop throttling and be open with users about how their traffic was managed.
The issue grew to such a boiling point that President Obama campaigned in support of net neutrality. He claimed that, his administration was “getting pushback, obviously, from some of the bigger carriers who would like to be able to charge more fees and extract more money from wealthier customers. But we think that runs counter to the whole spirit of openness that has made the internet such a powerful engine for not only economic growth but the generation of ideas and creativity.”
Now, it falls to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Will he push for the telecoms to be reclassified as telecommunication carriers?