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Net Neutrality: A New Hope

Net Neutrality: A New Hope

Is there still life for net neutrality?

By: Jacob Fisher | jfisher18@dtechhs.org | February 12th, 2018

Art by Jacob Fisher

On June 12 2017, the FCC decided to rollback the Obama-era protections to internet freedom that forced Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to treat all web traffic equally. 83 percent of Americans are in support of net neutrality and without it ISPs have full control over the sites you visit, and how quickly you can access them.

Some d.tech students, like senior Michael Bentley, think that the loss of net neutrality is overblown and won’t affect his daily life. According to Jeremy Gillula, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we might not see changes right away, because “The national ISPs are not going to do anything to create a backlash.” They just don’t want to enrage their customers. However, many d.tech students, like senior Nicholas Dal Porto, fear that ISPs will start blocking and restricting the content he wants to view. ISPs won’t start blocking content outright. What we may see first is ISPs charging extra for 4K video (not many people have that type of super-high-resolution video), and paid prioritization. This means that ISPs could tell businesses: if you want people to have a fast connection to your site, you will need to pay a monthly premium. However, there is a chance that net neutrality will survive.

The first of net neutrality’s saviors is that certain states, such as California, New York and Nevada, are attempting to set up their own net neutrality laws. These laws will vary from state to state. For example,“in Montana, you can violate net neutrality but the state will not purchase any services from [ISPs that violate net neutrality]. This sort of approach is almost certain to pass muster because it would be very hard for the FCC to force states to do business with certain companies,” Gillula stated. If some states have net neutrality rules and others don’t, it may become extremely difficult for ISPs to slow down content in some states and not in others. It depends on how the networks are configured. For example: if California passes its own net neutrality laws but Nevada doesn’t, it may be difficult for ISPs to restrict content the moment it enters Nevada but not restrict any content that enters California. ISPs may think that it is too hard to selectively restrict certain regions because of the cost and effort involved.     

Another way states can force ISPs to uphold net neutrality is by telling them what they can and cannot do with public rights of way. According to Gillula “In many states an ISP’s infrastructure is built on public right of ways. [ISPs] have cables running underneath public streets, public utility poles…” Localities have agreements with ISPs saying that an ISP can provide service to an area as long as it follows the rules made by the locality, such requiring ISPs to provide neutral plans. As long as ISPs play by the rules, they can provide service to their customers.

States aren’t the only ones who can fight against the FCC’s decision. Congress can enact the Congressional Review Act (CRA). According to Gillula, the CRA is a “law that says, after a federal agency like the FCC pushes a new rule or order, 60 legislative days from when that order is published in the federal register…the rule or order can be overruled or vetoed by a majority vote in the Senate, the House, and the president. To force a vote on a CRA you only need 40 votes in the Senate (out of 100 senators).” There already are more than 40 senators in favor of restoring net neutrality, meaning that the FCC’s controversial vote has a good chance of being overruled.

The final thing that could overrule the FCC’s decision would be lawsuits. One of the several organizations that is filing a lawsuit against the FCC is the Internet Association. According to Gillula, “The Internet Association is 22 states attorneys generals who have filed a lawsuit against the FCC. If a federal agency has passed a regulation, the states can sue to prevent the regulation from going into effect.” The FCC ignored the public outcry and fundamentally misrepresented the public. They ignored millions of public comments, while working to fulfill their own self interests. This is why these lawsuits will have a good chance at restoring net neutrality.

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