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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.

Got a lot of things running in EC2? If Amazon hasn't paid a big wad of cash to your ISP, traffic running back and forth between your cloud instances will go slowly, if it moves at all. Don't like it? Switch cloud providers to the one that paid up. Don't want to use them? Then either switch ISPs or go sit on it.

That seems a little alarmist.

Maybe "ruining the Internet" is a bit strong, but there's little question that big telecoms are thinking along precisely these lines. Netflix openly used the words "extortion" and "ransom" to describe Comcast's successful efforts to chisel a bunch of money out of the video streaming service earlier in 2014, and there's no earthly reason to suppose that the ISPs wouldn't use similar tactics in their dealings with, say, Amazon and Google.

Sure, it would be gigantically unpopular, but what other option would those companies have? If major services simply didn't work right on networks that a huge proportion of American businesses use to get online, who would ever use them?

So this is why the whole Internet seems like it's flipping out.

Exactly. The FCC proposal that would have allowed for paid prioritization you probably heard a lot of talk about "fast lanes" sparked a bonfire of outrage from nearly (but not absolutely) everyone who wasn't employed by an ISP. Big companies that provide services over the Internet, watchdog groups like the EFF and media properties like Reddit all loudly criticized the FCC's proposal. 

I bet the telecoms see things a bit differently.

Well, yes. The telecoms like to talk up the idea of fast lanes while simultaneously insisting that this wouldn't slow anybody else's traffic down. Paid prioritization, the industry insists, would let them invest more in infrastructure, and offer more services for innovative businesses to take advantage of.

Moreover, the telcos say, the Internet has been largely unregulated since its inception and that doesn't seem to have hurt it. Imposing new rules would hamstring the industry's ability to innovate, and increase the U.S. government's control over the Internet, interfere with the operation of a free market, drive prices up, and in the end, make services worse.

OK, so it's the telecom companies vs. almost everyone else, and the telecom companies have already won.

Not just yet in fact, the telecoms may be just about to take a big loss on Thursday, when the FCC meets to vote on amended rules that would, finally, reclassify broadband providers under Title II.

Remind me what the big deal is about Title II?

If the FCC decides to regulate broadband providers via Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, that means they're treated as common carriers, and that the FCC can apply any of the numerous sections in Title II to the ISPs including the one that bans paid prioritization.


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