AP Explains: What is net neutrality and why does it matter?

NEW YORK — “Net neutrality” regulations, designed to prevent internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter from favouring some sites and apps over others, are on the chopping block. On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on a proposal that would not only undo the Obama-era rules that have been in place since 2015, but will forbid states to put anything similar in place.

Here’s a look at what the developments mean for consumers and companies.

___

WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, and it’s pretty much how the internet has worked since its creation. But regulators, consumer advocates and internet companies were concerned about what broadband companies could do with their power as the pathway to the internet — blocking or slowing down apps that rival their own services, for example.

___

WHAT DID THE GOVERNMENT DO ABOUT IT?

The FCC in 2015 approved rules, on a party-line vote, that made sure cable and phone companies don’t manipulate traffic. With them in place, a provider such as Comcast can’t charge Netflix for a faster path to its customers, or block it or slow it down.

The net neutrality rules gave the FCC power to go after companies for business practices that weren’t explicitly banned as well. For example, the Obama FCC said that “zero rating” practices by AT&T violated net neutrality. The telecom giant exempted its own video app from cellphone data caps, which would save some consumers money, and said video rivals could pay for the same treatment. Under current chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC spiked the effort to go after AT&T, even before it began rolling out a plan to undo the net neutrality rules entirely.

A federal appeals court upheld the rules in 2016 after broadband providers sued.

___

WHAT TELCOS WANT

Big telecom companies hate the stricter regulation that comes with the net neutrality rules and have fought them fiercely in court. They say the regulations can undermine investment in broadband and introduced uncertainty about what were acceptable business practices. There were concerns about potential price regulation, even though the FCC had said it won’t set prices for consumer internet service.

__

WHAT SILICON VALLEY WANTS

Internet companies such as Google have strongly backed net neutrality, but many tech firms have been more muted in their activism this year. Netflix, which had been vocal in support of the rules in 2015, said in January that weaker net neutrality wouldn’t hurt it because it’s now too popular with users for broadband providers to interfere.

__

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Although the FCC’s two Democrats said they will oppose the proposal, the repeal is likely to prevail as Republicans dominate 3-2. The vote for net neutrality in 2015 was also along party lines, but Democrats dominated then.

In the long run, net-neutrality advocates say undoing these rules makes it harder for the government to crack down on internet providers who act against consumer interests and will harm innovation. Those who criticize the rules say undoing them is good for investment in broadband networks.

But advocates aren’t sitting still. Some groups plan lawsuits to challenge the FCC’s move, and Democrats — energized by public protests in support of net neutrality — think it might be a winning political issue for them in 2018 congressional elections.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopened earlier this month, after closing in March due to the pandemic. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopens

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House was closed for months due… Continue reading

Guy Pelletier, vice-president of the Red Deer region for Melcor Developments. (Contributed photo).
Melcor has to redesign new neighbourhood after Molly Banister decision

City council disagreed with administration’s recommendation to scrap road plans

About $135,000 is available in grants for central Alberta organizations that are empowering women, girls and supporting gender-diverse people through their mission, activities or partnerships. Contributed photo
$135K in funding available in central Alberta for charities advancing gender equality

The Red Deer & District Community Foundation is providing $135,000 to local… Continue reading

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Former Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski and author of the Mazankowski report addresses the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada in Calgary on April 30, 2002. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Don Mazankowski, former Alberta MP and cabinet minister, dies at 85

EDMONTON — Donald Frank Mazankowski, a former Tory deputy prime minister, has… Continue reading

After an epic seven game series in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League, the Sylvan Lake Wranglers and Red Deer Vipers will get the 2020-21 season started with a four-game mini-series. Game 1 will be played Friday night in Sylvan Lake. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Wranglers, Vipers set to tangle in HJHL season opener

Playoff hockey in October? Not exactly, but when the Red Deer Vipers… Continue reading

Sharon Hickin, general manager of the Days Inn Sylvan Lake and the new Lake House Diner, poses for a photo outside the new restaurant. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
Pandemic puts extra hurdles in place for new Sylvan Lake businesses

Over the past seven months numerous new businesses have opened in Sylvan Lake, despite the pandemic

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
The problem isn’t dispatching, it’s a shortage of ambulances

Having worked in EMS for more than 43 years, and having lobbied… Continue reading

file photo
Maskwacis RCMP investigate pedestrian fatality

Collision on Highway 2A causing fatality still under investigation.

March 14, 2019 - Head shot of Toronto Star columnist Heather Scoffield.    DAVE CHAN FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Opinion: Canada is missing a recovery plan

The glitches should have been a sign of what was to come.… Continue reading

A recent Lock it or Lose it campaign at Parkland Mall found only 35 per cent of drivers took action to make their vehicles less tempting to criminals. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Michael Dawe: Parkland Mall transformed region’s retail landscape

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 3, 1970, there was a major boost… Continue reading

Most Read