On February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classified internet service providers, (ISPs) as Title II Common Carriers. So what does this mean for net neutrality? Well, first let’s take a brief review on what net neutrality actually is, and what a Title II Common Carrier is.
Net neutrality, put quite simply, is the practice of treating all data equally. So whether you’re trying to stream Netflix, play a game online, or simply browse webpages, your ISP brings you the data at the same rate You can’t be charged extra to have certain websites load faster. As the internet has grown in size, this has become more and more of an issue.
The term “net neutrality” was first introduced in a 2003 paper by Tim Wu. Although most issues were theoretical at that time, issues with not treating all data equally have become incredibly relevant in the past few years.
Due to the nature and expense involved in becoming an ISP, the industry is dominated by a select few companies (Comcast, Time-Warner and Verizon, to name a few). These companies have cooperated to an almost-monopolistic reign over the industry, where in most metropolitan areas, only one ISP is available, making competition between them almost non-existent. With the lack of competition, there is little incentive to improve the service provided by the ISP, and as such has led to many complaints by customers about ISP’s customer service, prices, and unfair fees tacked onto bills.
The concept of net neutrality specifically deals with one practice that can extorted by a monopolistic company. ISPs are charging content providers, such as Netflix and Youtube, outrageous fees to ensure that their data is “streamlined through” the network to the users.
This introduces a number of new problems: First, ISPs are now double-dipping, charging both the content providers and the content consumers extra in order to ensure that data gets through successfully, something that they are being paid to do in the first place.
Secondly, there’s an issue with how the data could be “streamlined through” the network. ISPs aren’t really improving their infrastructure (despite being given billions of dollars specifically to do so), so how can they claim to improve the speed at which certain data is being delivered?
By slowing everything else down. In short, the ISPs are essentially blackmailing companies. You either give them a bunch of money, or they’ll slow your service down. This would be equivalent to a phone company charging you extra if you wanted to talk about politics over the phone, otherwise they would introduce a several second-delay.
The same concept applies to the internet. What data is being transmitted shouldn’t affect the quality of the transmission of that data.
But why can’t a phone company charge you more to talk about politics? Well, phone service is considered a utility, and as such is regulated as a Title II Common Carrier. Title II is a good thing. It is designed to ensure that utility companies act in the public interest, providing a fair environment for competition to flourish. Services treated as common carriers are considered to be utilities, and have all the benefits and restrictions of such.
Since the FCC decision, there has been much discussion that being a Title II Common Carrier ensures that companies will not be allowed to have paid privatization, which essentially ensures net neutrality. This is not the only benefit of broadband being considered a utility though.
With the reclassification of ISPs, they now get to go through the process of using public utility lines. As an example, consider the electric grid. If electricity was not considered a utility, many companies could be trying to provide electricity to nearby homes.
In order to do this, each company would have to build its own poles to run wires into the homes. Over time, this system would result in the sides of roads being cluttered with many different sets of wires. In order to solve this, the government only lets specific companies build wires.
This creates a natural monopoly, but the tradeoff for getting this monopoly is government regulation, ensuring no price-gouging or ridiculous practices are used by the electric companies. With ISPs now being utilities, it is no longer necessary for all ISPs to build all of their infrastructure underground, which makes the process of expanding a network much more affordable. In turn, this lowers the cost necessary for a new ISP to begin to establish its foothold.
All things considered, the choice of making ISPs Title II Common Carriers results in a better internet for everyone.