US faces moment of truth on 'net neutrality'

Partial map of the Internet based on the January 15, 2005 data found on Each line is drawn between two nodes, representing two IP addresses. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The acrimonious battle over "net neutrality" in America comes to a head Thursday with a US agency set to vote to roll back rules enacted two years earlier aimed at preventing a "two-speed" internet.

The Federal Communications Commission was expected to narrowly pass the measure to scrap the 2015 rules, which require service providers to treat all online traffic equally without blocking or hampering of rivals.

Backers of the new proposal say it would encourage innovation and investment by removing heavy regulatory burdens. But critics argue it could kill the "open internet" and enable broadband firms to choose what people see or don't see online.

The rollback is being engineered by FCC chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump.

As a member of the FCC, Pai was a fierce critic of the neutrality rules adopted in 2015 and earlier this month unveiled his plan named the "Restoring Internet Freedom" order.

Amid a wave of protests from online firms and activists opposing the new plan, Pai said his reforms would usher in a return to a "light-touch regulatory approach" that has allowed the internet to flourish.

The dispute over net neutrality has been the subject of several court battles over the past decade, with backers arguing strong rules are needed to guard against powerful broadband firms like Comcast and AT&T acting as "gatekeepers" that can punish rivals.

Tim Berners-Lee, the British engineer and creator of the World Wide Web, joined other internet pioneers in pleading for neutrality rules to remain.

"Net neutrality— the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) treat all traffic equally— underpins the internet as we know it today," Berners-Lee wrote on the online platform Medium this week.

If the rules are repealed, Berners-Lee said, "ISPs will have the power to decide which websites you can access and at what speed each will load. In other words, they'll be able to decide which companies succeed online, which voices are heard—and which are silenced."

'New-age Nostradamuses'

But Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who in 2005 evoked the principle of "four internet freedoms"—which some say parallel net neutrality—said activists are stirring a tempest in a teapot.

"New-age Nostradamuses predict the internet will stop working, democracy will collapse, plague will ensue and locusts will cover the land," Powell said in a guest blog for the website Recode.

"Sadly, rational debate, like Elvis, has left the building." said Powell, who now heads the lobby group for broadband firms called NCTA - the Internet & Television Association.

Powell maintained that broadband firms "highly value the open internet and the principles of , much more than some animated activists would have you think... because it's a better way of making money than a closed internet."

Backers of the Pai plan say little will change and that any discriminatory conduct will be dealt with by another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces consumer protection and antitrust laws.

Still, the debate has hit a feverish pitch, with street protests in many cities and online, where websites ranging from Kickstarter to Pornhub putting up notices warning of the harmful potential from a rollback.

The FCC's online platform has been caught in the firestorm, with one investigation showing two million of 21 million public comments were sent with stolen identities.

Thirty-nine senators signed a letter urging the FCC to delay the vote, claiming that Pai's assertion that the plan would "restore" regulations of the past was incorrect.

"Even under the Bush-era FCC, the agency adopted principles," the letter said. "The future of the internet hangs in the balance."

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FCC chairman sets out to repeal 'net neutrality' rules

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Dec 14, 2017
What is most troubling is that a single individual at the head of a powerful government agency, who has a personal agenda, can ignore due process and the will of the people with impunity.

The neutrality rules were put into place when internet service providers, particularly cell phone companies, began to threaten companies that unless they paid for a fast lane, their presence on the internet would be slowed by those providers.

Eliminating the neutrality rules will return the internet to a protection scheme run by the ISPs.

Dec 14, 2017
Here is a typical leftist argument:

"Indeed, NARAL is still very much concerned about the implications of a rollback of net neutrality protections. Earlier on Tuesday, the organization tweeted that "Repealing NetNeutrality is a direct threat to reproductive freedom ... Without it, our access to information about how to obtain an abortion or other reprohealth services could be compromised."

-Obama instituted net neutrality. So we have to ask, how did women get abortions before Obama?

This sort of bullshit is the reason why most people hate the left so much.

Dec 14, 2017
"...rules enacted two years earlier...". So the internet worked poorly prior to 2015? Really?

Dec 14, 2017
The less the government is involved, the better.

"What is most troubling is that a single individual at the head of a powerful government agency, who has a personal agenda, can ignore due process and the will of the people with impunity."

What troubles me more than that, is the people who make this exact statement are the people who then go on to rely on that same government that they hate so much to deal with things like controlling the Internet. Seems a little hypocritical to me.

Dec 14, 2017
So much sound and fury over nothing. No one can demonstrate that their internet access improved during the last two years of so-called "net neutrality". The people most upset about the federal government rolling back this 300-page regulation will likely see no difference whatsoever in the coming years.

Dec 14, 2017
For all of you who want to see the end of net neutrality you should be asking yourselves a few questions, like why are nearly ALL of the big companies that are making a lot of money off the Internet supporting the end of net neutrality?

While it is true there is a lot that is unfair for the current user of the Internet like for the same use the price is the same in most cases, this is ridiculous. None of us would like to be paying the same for electric, we want to pay for what we use not what a neighbor is using.

My hope is that we will all benefit from this change but that is very unlikely because one thing is a near certainty, the Internet providers will be making higher profits. Even if the Internet providers charge you the same and start charging Netflix, Hulu, Sling etc. you will pay them more.

Do you really think it is for your benefit? You Lose!

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