Net Neutrality: Is the Threat Gone for Good?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you’ve likely heard about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s attempt to repeal “net neutrality.” Unfortunately, the problem is that the concept of net neutrality, or why it’s an important issue, isn’t always made clear in news stories.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, has called companies like Twitter “part of the problem” when it comes to securing an open Internet. So who’s right — and what’s the latest word on net neutrality?

What Is Net Neutrality?

Basically, net neutrality means ensuring that people and organizations using the Internet can all access websites at the same speed and regularity. The current net neutrality regulations in the United States, which were enshrined in 2015 by the Obama administration, prohibit Internet service providers such as Comcast and AT&T from blocking websites and content, or from artificially slowing down users’ access to certain websites and content.

Before these laws came into force, the Internet was governed by only a light regulatory framework that was established during the Clinton administration in the early 1990s. It’s this framework that Pai, and other opponents of the Obama-era net neutrality regulations, seek to dismantle. They claim that the repeal will improve competition and force ISPs to provide better service to customers.

What Does Net Neutrality Mean?

The problems that people have with the net neutrality repeal can be explained with an easy metaphor. Imagine that you live in a small town with two restaurants that allow you to order delivery over the phone, and also only one telephone company. One of the restaurants makes a deal with the phone company so that people can always place an order there more quickly than at the other restaurant. Of course, this leads to a massive surge in business for the first restaurant, while the second restaurant sees its fortunes decline just as quickly.

Theoretically, repealing net neutrality would allow ISPs to make arrangements with private companies to provide faster connections to their websites while artificially throttling connections to their competitors. For example, Comcast could cut a deal with Netflix to provide the same level of service while slowing down connections to Hulu, or including faster access to Hulu in a pricier package.

Is the Threat Now Gone?

You might think that the answer of whether the “net neutrality threat” is now gone depends entirely on which side you fall on. For example, if you believe, like Ajit Pai, that net neutrality is hampering competition, then you’ll be pleased to know that the FCC has recently voted to repeal the existing regulations. Pai also thinks that the real threat to an open Internet isn’t the theoretical throttling that could occur in the future, but the censorship that companies such as Twitter and Facebook engage in, which is seemingly politically motivated.

However, by no means is the battle over. Supporters of net neutrality are likely to still have their day in court; there would likely be no end to the lawsuits launched by private companies as a result of the repeal going into effect. For these reasons, the net neutrality “threat” isn’t over regardless of which side you fall on — so keep watching for future news on net neutrality.