Date: June 15, 2018
“On June 11, the Federal Communications Commission officially ended network neutrality rules that were put in place three years ago by the Obama administration. Opponents decried the move. “Now your cable company can scam you for more money, censor websites, and slow down online content,” according to the Battle for the Net campaign by nonprofit advocacy groups Fight for the Future, Free Press and Demand Progress. “People are angry. And rightly so.” Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his family reportedly continue to receive death threats due to the decision.
But the situation is more complicated than what the inflammatory rhetoric would suggest. “There is this misunderstanding that net neutrality is kind of this catch-all provision that prevents broadband companies from doing bad things. It’s not,” said Kevin Werbach, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics who worked at the FCC under the Clinton administration, on the Knowledge@Wharton show that airs on SiriusXM channel 111. “What it has to do with is [banning] certain kinds of discriminatory practices about the treatment of data.”
Net neutrality is a set of rules ensuring that wired and mobile broadband providers — primarily cable and phone companies — treat all data transmissions that go through their pipes or airwaves equally, irrespective of content as long as it’s lawful, and subject to reasonable network management practices. When broadband providers manage data flows, they need to have a legitimate reason such as alleviating internet traffic congestion. What they can’t do, for example, is purposely hamper a rival company. Comcast cannot lawfully block the video streams of Netflix just because it is a rival of Hulu, which it partly owns.
The FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order that established net neutrality rules bans the blocking and throttling of lawful content, applications, services and devices. It also prohibits “paid prioritization,” which creates favored “fast lanes” on the web. For example, Amazon cannot pay or otherwise compensate Verizon to speed up internet traffic going to its website to get an edge over other online shopping sites. Even if some prioritization benefits consumers, Obama’s FCC argued that “the threat of harm is overwhelming” if it allowed the practice.”