Tom Wheeler is the 31st chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He has held the position since November 2013, and arguably the biggest issue the FCC has faced in this time is over whether to preserve Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality has been in the news a lot in the last few years, and it has become one of those phrases that people throw around. But what exactly is it?
Net Neutrality is the principle that information sent across the Internet must be treated equally, or neutrally. Access to some data should not be prioritized over other data. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be able to charge certain companies more to transmit their data, and the ISPs should not be able to block any content or data either. Basically, Net Neutrality is what it sounds like: an open and neutral Internet.
What the ISPs would like to do is charge certain companies more to access an internet “fast lane” that would allow that company’s clients, users or subscribers faster download times for the data sent over those “fast lanes.” If a company was unwilling or unable to pay these extra charges their data would be sent at a slower speed making download times longer. The ISP’s would also like to be able to block certain content, say person-to-person torrent sharing sites like The Pirate Bay, from being accessed by their clients.
There was much debate as to whether or not the FCC would support net neutrality or if they would support the business interests of the ISPs. Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former cable company lobbyist, was thought not to support net neutrality; so many people thought the FCC would also not support it.
However, on February 26, 2015 the FCC declared that they would classify the Internet as a telecommunications service instead of an information service. This will place it under the protections of the Communication Act of 1934 and the Telecommunication Act of 1996. They published a large document outlining the new rules for the broadcast of the internet, and Chairman Wheeler wrote a blog post on the FCC website saying, “the FCC today has taken an important step that should reassure consumers, innovators and the financial markets about the broadband future of our nation.”
And the Internet rejoiced! Well, except for Jeb Bush. And Fox News. And Rush Limbaugh. These technological masterminds are all very worried that the new regulations will staunch growth in the industry because what sort of company would want to fund expansion if they knew they weren’t going to be able to gouge their current customers and double charge the content companies?
What sort of companies indeed. Chairman Wheeler writes from his blog again, “The ISPs’ consumer revenue streams tomorrow will be the same as they were yesterday. I believe this is why Sprint, T-Mobile, Frontier Communications, and Google Fiber, along with hundreds of smaller phone company ISPs have said they would continue to invest under the Commission’s modern regulatory approach.”
Will these new rules indeed inhibit development by our ISPs or, can we, as Chairman Wheeler thinks, look forward to, “a broadband future of investment and expansion?” Will these rules stand? For now, it seems so.
– Sommer Darland