News & Insight

Is the U.S. about to abandon 'net neutrality'?

Oliver Jones

The new FCC chairman has outlined a plan to deregulate internet provision.

The new FCC (Federal Communications Commission) chairman, Ajit Pai, has outlined a plan to deregulate the internet, and allow internet providers to choose which data gets a faster stream.

Ajit Pai, a Trump ally, plans to overturn an Obama-era ruling which enforces an ‘open internet’, where all traffic is treated equally.

What is ‘net neutrality’

Net neutrality means internet traffic is treated uniformly by ISP’s (Internet Service Providers). No data is allowed to run faster than others – bank transfers have the same weight as emails, videos, images and web pages.

Hailed as the ‘first amendment of the internet’, proponents believe it is necessary to prevent ISPs from creating ‘fast lanes’ for profitable traffic, and ‘slow lanes’ for other forms of traffic.

Is it necessary?

There have been a number of cases where ISPs have moved to limit or block internet traffic deemed to be damaging profits.  In 2013, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile blocked Google Wallet from their phones, because it was competing with their mobile payment app, Isis.

Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, argues that current regulation deters investment, and credits low internet regulation with the development of the modern tech economy. ‘We saw companies like Facebook and Amazon and Google become global powerhouses precisely because we had light-touch rules that apply to this Internet. And the Internet wasn't broken in 2015 when these heavy-handed regulations were adopted.’

Ironically, Google is one of the main opponents of the new legislation, which could see its services receive slow traffic where they compete with ISP services.

Pai also claims that regulation may deter investment, though figures show that ISPs are themselves investing less and less in their networks, while making more revenue from them.

Where can I find out more?

Techcrunch have published an article on why we should protect net neutrality, while some of the arguments are against are archived on Reddit.