Net Neutrality under fire – What’s happened so far?

The FCC or Federal Communications Commission has done plenty of speculating as to how Trump’s administration would affect net neutrality. The FCC’s leader, Ajit Pai, had previously stated, that he was very much in favour of a neutral net.

Despite this, in March 2017, Congress voted down a set of previously established rules, mostly relating to the privacy of Internet users. Affected are, amongst other things, the restrictions on what information an ISP can collect, store and sell on. As far as actual net neutrality goes, ISPs that are classified under Title 2 (as common carriers) cannot be held to the existing rules by the FTC, only the FCC.

With the vote in March, these rules were heavily limited and it is as of yet unclear, whether or not the FCC will be able to continue its work as intended. Pai and FCC have, in the meantime, struck down several changes that would have negatively impacted users – such as rejecting a proposal that would unlock set-top boxes to third parties like Google or Amazon.

Citing that this would negatively impact the consumer’s experience, as well as their privacy, Pai also stated that it would have been a step against smaller providers that may have financially struggled to keep up with the proposed changes.

At the moment, it looks like it is not the intention of the administration to eliminate, or even explicitly affect net neutrality – this is more a side-effect of other rulings. As it stands, the FCC’s mission is to maintain fair competition among ISPs and to expand broadband and Internet access to areas where it is not yet available.

It should be noted that, since it’s expansion to include the Internet in the 1990’s, the idea of what net neutrality actually is has changed and evolved a fair bit. Had it previously only covered DSL lines that were shared between providers, it has since extended to all online-traffic. Notably, Netflix complained to the FCC that Comcast was violating this by charging for transmitting large scale data.

The companies settled, but the damage was done – and zero-rating became a new issue to be considered. Referring to the practice of not charging users for data usage via certain specific applications or programmes, is actually considered a step against net neutrality. It hinders fair competition and affects the open market – providers gain a significant advantage and entice users to use their services over others.

To the end user the difference may be negligible or altogether unnoticeable, however the practice is detrimental to companies who cannot, do not want to, or have not yet established such services. While on the surface it seems like an innovative idea, experts fear it could actually hamper innovation by encouraging a form of seclusion, rather than cooperation as necessary under net neutrality.

There have not yet been any rulings on zero-rating under the Trump administration, but FCC chairman Pai has spoken out against it – he is in favour of fair competition.

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