Understanding Net Neutrality

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It’s t-minus 10 minutes before you need to send an essay in through Gmail and at the least convenient time you see the dreaded wheel of death. You may try to use a different search engine, to little or no avail. You may try to restart the computer, but that doesn’t fix the problem. So what is it that is eating our internet speeds?

In 2003, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia, penned the term “net neutrality.” It is the principle that internet traffic should be treated equally. Internet traffic is the amalgamation of data and files sent over the internet, these include emails, video files and music files—basically anything requiring broadband. The case of net neutrality argues that Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) including broadband providers like Comcast and mobile carriers like T-Mobile cannot cherry pick which content you’re able to access. For instance, AT&T cannot legally slow down Netflix speeds so that you have to pay extra for their television network package. Without net neutrality, platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, would not be able to compete in the market against bigger social networks and apps.

This is where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) comes in. Under the Communications Act of 1943, signed into law by FDR, the FCC was born in order to regulate interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio. According to the FCC’s 2008 Performance and Accountability Report, the FCC works towards six strategic goals: “Broadband, Competition, Spectrum, Media, Public Safety, Homeland Security, and Modernizing the commission.”

For the most part, regardless of political inclinations, Americans are in overwhelming support of net neutrality.

But in recent years, net neutrality has been under attack. The figurehead of the opposition is Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC. Pai was appointed into office during the Obama Administration, and was appointed to Chairman during the Trump Administration. Before joining the FCC, he was a lawyer for Verizon.

On May 18, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission took the first formal step toward dismantling the net neutrality rules. On December 14, the FCC will vote on Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal, which would reclassify internet service — now considered a Title II “utility” — as an “information service.” If passed, this proposal would end the 2015 net neutrality policy brought into law under the Obama Administration and give ISPs more power over what their customers do on the internet and how they access it.

This proposal has brought a huge backlash of criticism. Matt Ameduri ’19 says on the proposal, “I feel like it’s pretty stupid that our regulatory agency is deciding this. It could potentially have huge consequences to the entire nation’s internet infrastructure.”

Yet the burden falls on Republicans to insure that this act is not passed. So far, only our own senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine) is the only Republican member of Congress who has opposed Pai’s plan against net neutrality.

All of this has reached a pinnacle with the recent AT&T merger with Time Warner Cable, which for all economics majors out there is a run-of-the-mill vertical merger.

Typically, vertical mergers go by unscathed, as they do not reduce competition. However, on November 21, the Department of Justice sued the $85 billion merger. This occurred the same week in which FCC unveiled the proposal to overturn net neutrality rules.

In a New York Times article titled “Justice Department Sues to Block AT&T-Time Warner Merger” authors Cecilia Kang and Michael J. de la Merced put the situation as follows, “[e]ven as one government agency looks to constrain the growth of AT&T, the nation’s largest pay-TV company and one of its largest internet providers, another is working to unshackle broadcast and telecom companies from rules its staff says are burdensome.”

 

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