Protecting the Open Internet
An open internet, also known as net neutrality, is an Internet that allows people to access all available resources online with our computers, phones, or other devices without interference from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), allowing us to read our favorite blogs even if they criticize big telecom companies.
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order, passed in Dec. 2010, states that ISPs cannot block lawful content, applications or services even if they compete with applications or services provided by the ISP. The FCC rules also state that ISPs can’t discriminate in how quickly we see websites and content, even if the website is in competition with them or a company that advertises with them. From the FCC website, the FCC rules are:
- Transparency: Broadband providers must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and the commercial terms of their broadband services;
- No Blocking: Fixed broadband providers (such as DSL, cable modem or fixed wireless providers) may not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services;
- No Unreasonable Discrimination: Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. The no blocking and no unreasonable discrimination rules are subject to limited exceptions for “reasonable network management.”
Despite the Open Internet Order, Verizon sued the FCC in 2013 to overturn net neutrality. In January 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., overturned the FCC Open Internet Rules and sided with Verizon. This means that ISPs are now free to edit the internet and block content. But hope is not lost! The FCC has the ability to regulate telecommunications services or platforms for speech like telephone or radio. The FCC has not classified the internet as a telecommunications service which is why the open internet rules did not stand up in court. If the FCC will reclassify the internet as a telecommunications service, we can have an open internet again!
Open Internet Rules protect us from ISPs blocking or censoring content on the Internet. If ISPs are allowed to control what content we can see, we could have an internet system similar to cable where we would only have access to the content that companies wanted us to see or paid to make available to us. By charging a premium so wealthy businesses can jump to the front of the line, they’re playing a game with data delivery that would shove all other sites to the back.
How Does This Affect New Mexicans?
- Education: Most schools assume that children have access to the internet at home and are increasingly integrating the internet into classrooms and homework. Without an open internet, students wouldn’t have a choice of what sites to use when doing research for homework or might even be blocked from using certain online educational programs depending on their service provider.
- Small Business: An open internet has given us a truly free marketplace of ideas where even the smallest entrepreneur can compete with giant corporations. (Would we have many of the Internet’s most innovative businesses — like Twitter, YouTube, and FourSquare — had they been unable to enter the market on a level playing field?) The internet will look a lot different if network operators get to favor one online business or speaker over another. With an open internet, small businesses are able to market themselves and reach customers in the same way that large corporations do. They can build a website and engage in social media to grow their businesses. If Verizon succeeds in overturning open internet rules, small businesses would be forced to compete with large corporations for space on the internet. Customers might not be able to find small businesses’ information depending on their ISP. ISPs would benefit from favoring large companies and charging them money to become more visible to customers. Small businesses could not compete. Businesses who could pay more would have easier to find and faster to load websites than small businesses.
- Healthcare: One of the first places that people go when they are looking for information on their health is the internet. We are able to research symptoms or research what questions we should ask at the doctor’s office. While this information may not always be accurate, we are able to gain knowledge on a subject and bring that information to our doctors to discuss. Without a free and open internet the information available about our health would be limited because ISPs could decide which sites we were allowed to visit while using their service.
- Racial Justice: Protecting an open internet is essential to communities of color. There are very few broadcast stations owned by people of color and few television programs that feature actors of color as complex characters or as leads. People of color have very little say in how their community is portrayed. Instead, corporate gatekeepers decide whether their voices are heard and how their stories are told. The internet is a platform for communities of color to create and share their own media. The fight to protect internet freedom is critical to ensuring that our communities control their own image and tell their own stories in the digital age. Without an open internet, content made by and for communities of color would not be as available.
For more recent Net Neutrality updates see the Open Internet Timeline by Public Knowledge.