I have been nervous about this for a very long time. Net Neutrality is super important to me. Just a quick primer on what Net Neutrality means: the idea that all internet content should be treated equally, and that ISPs and governments shouldn’t be charging different users, companies or content differently or otherwise discriminating against users, companies or individual websites.
On January 14, 2014, Net Neutrality suffered a massive blow when a United States Federal Appeals Court gutted laws that keep our internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down lawful content online. The Federal Communications Commission had the opportunity to do an end run around that terrible ruling by reclassifying the internet, or supporting this crazy dystopian novel that we saw being written before us. The FCC held a comment period where the people spoke for or against Net Neutrality. And speak they did — the response was massive and unheard of, with only 1% of commenters arguing against Net Neutrality. In fact, some of you commented during this period. Thank you for that. And through all of this, my opinion has remained the same — nervous, pessimistic.
As I wrote when I first covered this issue, “my faith that this will just right itself isn’t strong.” Especially when one considers that originally the FCC proposal did include internet fast lanes and slow lanes, and that Tom Wheeler (chairman of the FCC) used to run the telecommunications lobbying arm.
I am very happy that my predictions were wrong.
On February 26th, The FCC approved three-to-two the strongest protections of Net Neutrality that America has ever seen. According to the BBC’s excellent reporting, the following list of rules now apply to the internet and ISPs:
- Broadband access is being reclassified as a telecommunications service, meaning it will be subject to much heavier regulation
- Broadband providers cannot block or speed up connections for a fee
- Internet providers cannot strike deals with content firms, known as paid prioritisation, for smoother delivery of traffic to consumers
- Interconnection deals, where content companies pay broadband providers to connect to their networks, will also be regulated
- Firms which feel that unjust fees have been levied can complain to the FCC. Each one will be dealt with on a case by case basis
- All of the rules will also apply to mobile providers as well as fixed line providers
- The FCC won’t apply some sections of the new rules, including price controls
To unpack a couple of these bullet points, being classified as a telecommunications service means that, like telephone service, the internet is so tied to public good that the company has an obligation to serve everyone equally. Mobile data providers are held to these standards as well, which our resident Queer Engineer Laura Mandanas pointed out to me is especially important, because people of color and working class people tend to rely more heavily on mobile internet solutions than computers. And the FCC, despite many conservative people literally lying, is not setting prices for internet. Essentially, the rules echo the advice President Obama laid out a few months ago.
In other words, Net Neutrality Lives!
But wait wait wait, not so fast. My nervousness and the ISPs hopes and dreams of cray cray profit don’t die quite so easily. Internet Service Providers have already threatened immediate legal action, which is scary — it was a Verizon law suit that overturned the previous net neutrality rules. And Republican Congress is already brewing up some nasty concoctions that take the teeth out of the FCC regulations.
What I’m saying is we can breathe a sigh of relief that Net Neutrality lives to fight another day. But there be more days of fighting. In the words of Mad Eye Moody:
This has been the one-hundred-nineteenth installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to bookmark to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani. Feature image via Shutterstock.