Broadband is now a public utility

On February 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed new net neutrality regulations designed to safeguard the free flow of content on the internet. The FCC’s vote causes fixed broadband lines to be reclassified under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. This means internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile broadband providers will be considered public utilities (like electricity or telephone service).

Why is this classification important? Because it means these companies will be more strictly regulated than they were in the past.

Some folks feel these rules ensure fair internet access while others feel it smothers the internet with unnecessary regulation. There’s also a third group of people who don’t know a darn thing about net neutrality and how it will affect them…does this sound like you?

What is net neutrality?

USA Today describes net neutrality as the principle that ISPs should give consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis, without favoring some sources or blocking others. It prohibits ISPs from charging content providers for speedier delivery of their content on “fast lanes” and deliberately slowing the content from content providers that may compete with ISPs.

CNET sums up net neutrality quite simply:

Think of the internet as a highway, and the packets of data carrying the latest episode of House of Cards are the cars. These “cars” travel on the same highway as your neighbor’s Google searches and Instagram uploads. If everyone is using the highway at the same time, your House of Cards “cars” could get stuck in a traffic jam and the episode you’re trying to stream will freeze and buffer.

There are two possible solutions to this problem: your broadband provider can build a bigger highway with more lanes to alleviate traffic jams during peak times, or it could create fast lanes to let some traffic get priority access to move through the congestion more quickly.

But how does a content provider gain priority access? The answer is simple: paying ISPs more money.

Who supports net neutrality?

The pro-regulation side demands strong net neutrality rules and consists of both content providers and consumers. Supporters include Apple, Google, AOL, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, and Vimeo. These companies are referred to as content providers because they create the content you view online.

Netflix and Google have been among the most vocal companies speaking in favor of net neutrality. For them, a “free and open” internet is essential to allowing innovation. They believe “smaller, less-moneyed” voices could be left behind under the control of too many gatekeepers.

Who’s against net neutrality?

More than two dozen broadband companies (including AT&T, Comcast, Cox, and Verizon) have voiced their concerns that the new rules are too strict. Verizon showed their disdain with the vote by publishing their initial press release in Morse code.

According to PC World, some ISPs and other opponents of the FCC’s ruling believe ISP innovation will die under Title II. They argue that more regulation will mean less investment and innovation in broadband.

Will this create more competition?

It’s not likely. In their vote, the FCC ruled out forcing ISPs to share their networks with competitors. This means market dominance by one ISP in local markets won’t be broken as a result of the ruling. Because of this, some argue that the FCC’s ruling does little to change problems with U.S. broadband services, as high prices and slow speeds are still very much a thing.

What happens next?

Net neutrality is not yet a done deal. Opponents are speaking out against the decision and many have stated they will challenge the ruling in court. Prior to the FCC’s vote, there was already a movement lobbying Republican lawmakers in Congress to undo a possible FCC ruling in favor of reclassification.

So what’s going to happen when you’re streaming House of Cards now? The FCC’s decision won’t affect your internet-ing in the immediate future…you’ll still be able to access all your regular services and websites. The only thing that should change is that there are preventive measures in place to prohibit ISPs from discriminating against the content you view.

Now, who’s up for some Netflix binging?