Net neutrality is the principle that websites, web-services, and applications are treated equally by large telecommunications companies. Net neutrality essentially allows small startups to compete with mammoth corporations, such as Facebook. Without net neutrality, Internet service providers would be allowed to select certain high-traffic websites to load much faster. Consequently, the small startups that are unable to pay for preferential treatment would be left in the dust. Recently, many high-profile companies have paid premiums to Internet service providers to ensure an enhanced ability to reach customers. Netflix, for example, has made a deal with Comcast so that its users can stream movies and TV shows faster.
The Federal Communications Commission, the agency responsible for regulating telecommunications technologies, among other things, describes the Internet as a place where “consumers are free to access, create, or share content.” Such freedom encourages innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition. The FCC’s previous attempts to enforce net neutrality, however, have all been rejected by courts that argue the FCC does not have the authority to mandate equal access. As such, the FCC has made some concessions in its proposals, one granting ISPs the ability to make “commercially reasonable” deals with companies.
The Internet Association, which is the lobbying-group that represents many large internet corporations, criticized a net neutrality proposal in May from the FCC, claiming that it would make the Internet a “pay for priority platform more closely resembling cable television.” Cable companies are located on the opposite side of the spectrum from telecommunications services. A Bloomberg report states that Comcast spent 18 million dollars in lobbying last year. Cable companies have a large degree of control over their customers. A federal study concluded that “approximately 96 percent of the population had at most two wire line providers.”
Tim Wu, the Columbia University Law Professor who coined the term net neutrality, believes that the FCC would have to reclassify Internet service as a telecommunications service, as opposed to its current information service status, to ensure an open Internet. The FCC would have more authority to regulate the Internet as a telecommunications service. President Obama rejoined the debate when he reiterated that he is “unequivocally committed to net neutrality.” The President also expressed his opposition for a system that allows tiered service, which the current FCC proposal would allow. The subject matter is so controversial that the FCC has received about 3.7 million comments on its proposed net neutrality rules, which would effectively end net neutrality. The deluge of concern was so large that the FCC’s systems have been overwhelmed at times.