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FAQ: The FCC's Net Neutrality vote, for the IT crowd

Jon Gold | Feb. 24, 2015
The FCC on Thursday, Feb. 26 is set to vote on new broadband regulations that would require ISPs to practice Network Neutrality.

The FCC on Thursday, Feb. 26 is set to vote on new broadband regulations that would require ISPs to practice Network Neutrality.  Here's the lowdown on this hot political and technical topic:

Before you start, you know that I know what Net Neutrality is already, right?

Of course, you work in IT, so I expected that was the case. While others might not be aware that the term is thought to have been coined in 2003 by Columbia law professor Tim Wu still one of the most vocal proponents of Net Neutrality no such gap exists in your knowledge.

And just as obviously, you're aware that the basic principle of Net Neutrality is that Internet service providers should not be allowed to discriminate among the different types of traffic that they carry that is to say, not slowing or blocking legal traffic, nor charging special fees for certain types of traffic.

Gee, that was sneaky. I almost didn't see what you did there.

You're kind of cranky for a framing device.

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All right, fine so where do we stand right now?

It's sort of unclear, as it happens. The country's biggest ISPs have successfully been able to argue in court that they're not required to adhere to Net Neutrality principles, in large part because the FCC's rulemaking on the subject has been sort of haphazard an unwillingness to regulate broadband providers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 let Verizon win a landmark case in 2014 that struck down most official protections for Net Neutrality.

Well, that's it, then. Why are we still talking about this?

Not so fast. After the D.C. Circuit Court decision I just mentioned, the FCC proposed new rules for Net Neutrality, which were much less strict than the 2010 rules the court struck down, and clearly left the door open for the telecoms to offer paid prioritization in essence, making it legal for Comcast et. al. to charge content and data service providers like Netflix or Google special fee for making sure their traffic gets through to consumers smoothly. (With the obvious corollary that the traffic won't get through smoothly unless the fee is paid.)

So one big company gets to hold up another big company for a big chunk of change. And?

Well, it turns out that this would kind of ruin the Internet.

How would we tell?

You're so funny. Pro-Net Neutrality types say that paid prioritization would split the Internet into individual fiefdoms, each controlled by a single ISP. Since that ISP would have the ability to pick and choose the traffic it wanted to carry, the result would be that the only services that would work reliably on a given network would be the ones that have paid big bucks to be the official partners.


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