The internet was, without a doubt, one of the most important inventions of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the fledgling internet has turned into the most valuable tool used today. It connects billions of people around the world and lets them share ideas, conduct business, and provide entertainment to others. The world relies on it so much society would fall apart if the internet became unusable.
The internet relies on the creativity and freedom of people to make life around the world easier. To allow this freedom, the internet must be as open and free as possible; there can be little to no restrictions on what sites people access or how fast they go there. This is Net Neutrality (NN) – the principle that all websites, however big or small, should be both free and easy to access. No one should be blocked from a website or game or have the connection slowed when unnecessary. Denying people access to the internet is essentially denying us a basic human right.
This freedom has not always existed thanks to the actions of giant telecommunication companies. To browse the internet, users must first connect to the internet. ISPs, or Internet Service Providers, are companies that offer such connections – and for many are the only way to connect the internet at all.
Unfortunately, ISPs are some of the vilest companies in America. There’s a reason that the major ones (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable) have consistently made the list for “Worst Companies in America:" they choose profits over service. For decades, ISPs have looked for ways to violate the principle of Net Neutrality, from blocking access to websites, to forcing Apple to remove Skype and similar apps, and to blocking Google Wallet entirely.
Many ISPs go beyond blocking internet access and technologies. They fail to provide reasonable data and internet coverage in rural areas of America. They falsely charge people thousands of dollars. One of the most egregious actions they perform is to lobby state legislatures to prevent the roll out of municipal or state broadband networks. Why? Because that’s real competition for ISPs. Real competition means less money. The anti-competitive nature of ISPs runs deep, and many will do anything to make sure citizens have to use their networks.
This is where the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, comes to the rescue (or at least is supposed to). The FCC is an independent agency that regulates radio, satellite, TV, cable, and the internet. It is their mission to ensure all Americans have affordable access to broadband internet, communication services that remain competitive, and a wide spectrum of radio channels. They have to protect the consumers of media and the internet from giant media conglomerates, so the average consumer doesn’t get screwed over by bad practices.
In 2005, the FCC established principles that required consumers be able to access lawful internet content, but ISPs would be allowed to engage in “reasonable network management.” It was a step in the right direction for Net Neutrality, but it was nowhere near good enough. From 2005 up until 2015, ISPs would routinely violate the principles by blocking peer-to-peer technologies, voice over internet protocol (VOIP) services, access to a server that hosted a website critical of the company, Skype on iOS, and wanting to block streaming videos over 4G to force people to use YouTube. In response to these violations, the FCC regularly got into legal battles with large ISPs.
In 2015, the FCC, led by Democrat Tom Wheeler, voted to finally instate Net Neutrality as law and prevent ISPs from blocking or throttling people’s connections to the internet. The result was a 3-2 vote in favor of NN and the internet was reclassified as a telecommunications service. Suddenly, ISPs couldn’t create paid fast lanes or block internet connection to websites. They had to treat the entire web equally, and any violation would bring the wrath of the FCC. It stayed that way for two years.
When Donald Trump came into office, all that effort was undone. President Trump installed Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lobbyist and member of the FCC board, as the Chairman of the FCC. This was a win for big ISP’s and a loss for everyone else – Pai had previously expressed his disagreement with NN and desire to remove the rules. The first thing Pai did when promoted was to announce the repeal of Net Neutrality. What got in Pai’s way, and what may be used against him, was the required public commentary period. A public commentary period is required for all federal agencies when they announce major changes to existing laws. As such, the public submitted comments to the FCC on whether they supported NN. However, the period was fraught with accusations that the FCC had sabotaged their own comment period by permitting millions of fraudulent votes to be registered and considered. Somehow, identities were being stolen and used to submit anti-NN comments to the FCC – some being identities of legally dead people.
Unfortunately, though most of the comments and 83 percent of Americans were for NN, the rules were scrapped. On December 14th, after months of taking in public comments and lambasting those who called some of the comments fraudulent, the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal Net Neutrality. As of this writing, little has happened to the internet so far, mainly due to how long it takes to repeal a law such as this one.
That, and the incoming court challenges from multiple attorney generals in Washington, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oregon, Vermont, D.C., and Massachusetts. Other states, like California and Washington, are working on preventing ISPs from throttling and blocking content. The lawsuits range from not taking public comments into consideration before the vote to the FCC outright lying about the number of public comments and how fraudulent many of them are.
While ISPs may not be engaging in total anti-NN behavior just yet, it is likely they will begin to do so in the future. It is possible we may start seeing pop-ups or ads telling us to buy the “Gamers” package for $5 so we have the best connection to Steam or games, then another $5 to get fast access to most social media sites. We could start seeing prices being raised for Netflix or other streaming sites because they must pay huge sums of money to avoid having their sites throttled. We will see the internet be offered to us in the form of microtransactions – and I don’t think I have to tell you how bad that would be.
A TIMELINE OF EVENTS SURROUNDING NET NEUTRALITY
Adopted from a timeline from a now discontinued whatisnetneutrality.org. For more information, please visit Wired.com's timeline.
October 1, 2002
FCC Brand X Decision
FCC decides to treat cable internet access and DSL internet access differently for regulatory purposes by deregulating cable.
January 12, 2003
“Net Neutrality” Coined
Law Professor Tim Wu first uses the phrase “net neutrality” in a law review article.
March 5, 2005
FCC Orders ISP to Stop Blocking VoIP
The FCC fines North Carolina-based ISP Madison River Communications for preventing its subscribers from using a VoIP service that competes with Madison River's own voice calling offering.
June 27, 2005
Supreme Court Brand X Decision
With its decision confirmed, FCC is free to leave cable internet access unregulated.
September 23, 2005
FCC Deregulates DSL
Having deregulated cable internet access, the FCC deregulates DSL as well, removing important consumer protections for internet connectivity.
FCC Issues Internet Policy Statement
The FCC Internet Policy Statement sets out proto-net neutrality rules for ISPs.
November 6, 2005
“Anybody who expects to use pipes for free is nuts!”
AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre inadvertantly confirms why net neutrality is important: ISPs want to demand a cut from every website just to reach their customers.
May 1, 2006
Senate Considers Net Neutralty Law
As part of a proposed (but ultimately doomed) attempt to update the Communications Act, the Senate considers a billthat includes a reference to net neutrality.
June 28, 2006
“A Series of Tubes”
In an attempt to explain why the consumer protections that exist for the phone system should not extend to the internet, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens turns himself into a meme.
February 7, 2007
Skype Requests Wireless Right to Attach
Skype files a requestwith the FCC to extend wireline "carterfone" rules to wireless. This would give customers the right to attach any non-harmful device to wireless networks, just like they can with wired telephone networks. The freedom of the original carterfone rules gave us things like fax machines, voicemail, and dial up internet.
November 1, 2007
Comcast Blocks Bittorrent
Although it initially denies doing so, Comcast begins interfering with Bittorrent traffic on its network.
October 23, 2007
Comcast Denies Blocking Bittorrent
Comcast insists that it only "delays" the traffic.
November 1, 2007
Public Knowledge and Free Press file a complaintdemanding that the FCC investigate Comcast's Bittorrent blocking.
January 9, 2008
The FCC Steps In
Responding to Public Knowledge and Free Press' complaint, the FCC opens an investigation into Comcast's treatment of Bittorrent traffic.
April 1, 2008
FCC Dismisses Skype Petition
Without wireless carterfone rights, all wireless equipment must be pre-approved by wireless carriers. An unknown number of innovative wireless devices never make it to the market.
August 1, 2008
FCC Orders Comcast to Stop Discriminating
The FCC issues an order documenting Comcast's behavior and prohibiting Comcast from discriminating against Bittorrent traffic.
September 4, 2008
Comcast appeals the FCC order to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
November 4, 2008
Barack Obama Wins Presidency
Advocating net neutrality, Barack Obama wins the 2008 presidential election.
October 22, 2009
FCC Begins Net Neutrality Proceeding
The FCC issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking beginning the proceeding that culminated in the Open Internet Order.
January 8, 2010
D.C. Circuit Hears Oral Arguments on the Comcast Order
The oral argument before the D.C. Circuit signals trouble for the FCC's order on Comcast's traffic discrimination.
April 6, 2010
D.C. Circuit Rules in Favor of Comcast
May 5, 2010
FCC Chairman Genachowski Announces a “Third Way”
FCC Chairman Genachowski considers reclassifying the transmission component of broadband service as a telecommunications service. Doing so would clarify the FCC's authority to implement net neutrality rules.
August 9, 2010
Google and Verizon Attempt to Cut Net Neutrality Deal
Reversing its longstanding position as a net neutrality supporter, Google announces a compromise with Verizon that would exclude larger parts of the internet from protection. Ultimately, the agreement is not adopted.
December 21, 2010
FCC Issues the Open Internet Order
FCC decides against reclassification and finds other authority to issue the Open Internet rules.
September 23, 2011
Open Internet Order Published in Federal Register
After administrative delays, the Federal Register publishes the Open Internet Order, to take effect on November 20, 2011.
September 30, 2011
Verizon Challenges the Order
Verizon appeals the Open Internet Order to the D.C. Circuit, questioning the FCC's authority to impose the Open Internet rules.
September 18, 2012
Public Interest Groups Tell AT&T to Stop Blocking FaceTime
AT&T decides to block FaceTime on its mobile networks for subscribers unless they enter into a “Mobile Share” plan. Subsequently, public interest groups Free Press, Public Knowledge, and New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute notify AT&T of their intent to file a formal Open Intnernet complaint to the FCC.
January 16, 2013
AT&T Agrees to Unblock FaceTime
After pressure from public interest groups using the FCC's Open Internet procedure, AT&T agrees to end its blocking of FaceTime.
September 9, 2013
Oral Arguments in Challenge to Open Internet Order
The D.C. Circuit hears arguments concerning Verizon's challenge to the FCC's Open Internet rules.
January 8, 2014
AT&T Announces Sponsored Data
AT&T announces that it will allow edge providers to pay in order to exempt their services from the data cap AT&T imposes on its customers.
September 9, 2013
During oral arguments, Verizon concedes that the FCC's Open Internet rules are the only thing preventing it from charging websites from reaching Verizon subscribers.
January 14, 2014
D.C. Circuit Overturns Open Internet Rules
The D.C. Circuit overturns the Open Internet rules, reaffirming the FCC's authority to promote the growth of the internet but telling the FCC that if it wants to treat internet access like a telecommunications service it cannot classify it as an information service.
April 23, 2014 — 12:NaN PM
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New Proposal Leaks
May 13, 2014
FCC Releases New Proposal
The FCC's proposal still tentatively concludes that it will allow fast lanes and slow lanes online, but also includes questions about Title II reclassisifcation.
June 1, 2014
Net Neutrality Crashes Last Week Tonight
John Oliver spends half of his weekly program explaining net neutrality and calling on the public to comment with the FCC to protect it. The FCC website crashes under the strain of comments and Chairman Wheeler is forced to go on record that he is not a dingo.
June 13, 2014
FCC Opens Investigation into Interconnection
In the wake of news that Netflix began paying Comcast and Verizon fees to resolve video quality issues, the FCC begins investigating interconnection and peering agreements.
June 17, 2014
Bill Introduced to Ban Internet Fast Lanes
Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Senator Patrick Leahy ( D-VT) introduce the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act to stop paid prioritization.
June 19, 2014
T-Mobile Exempts Some Music Streaming From Data Cap
T-Mobile announces that some music streaming services will be exempted from the data cap that it imposes on consumers.
July 15, 2014
FCC Receives 1.1 Million Comments
In the initial round, the FCC recieves 1.1 million comments (including from Public Knowledge). After the FCC releases the contents of the docket as a bulk data resource (a first for the Commission), the Sunlight Foundation determines that "less than 1% of comments were clearly opposed to net neutrality."
August 6, 2014
Big 4 Wireless Carriers Hit with Transparency Complaint
Relying on the open internet transparency rules - the only portion of the rules to survive the DC Circuit's opinion, Public Knowledge initates complaints against AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon for failing to disclose policies for throttling wireless subscribers.
September 10, 2014
Internet Slowdown Day
A broad collection of public interest groups, companies, and individuals participate in Internet Slowdown Day, urging the public to weigh in on the FCC's proposed open internet rules.
September 15, 2014
Reply Comments Push Docket to 3.7 million
The FCC's server crashes again as millions more people, companies, and advocacy organizations weigh in on the open internet rules.
November 10, 2014
President Obama Endorses Title II
In a video announcement, President Obama reiterates his support for strong open internet rules and for the first time explicity calls for those rules to be grounded in Title II authority.
January 16, 2015
Republicans Introduce Net Neutralty Bill
Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) release a discussion draft of a bill addressing the FCC’s authority over net neutrality. Net neutrality advocates raise concerns about the bill, both when it is introduced and during a Senate hearing.
February 4, 2015
FCC Chairman Wheeler Endorses Title II
In an oped, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler endorses strong open internet rules grounded in Title II authority.
February 26, 2015
FCC Passes Title II Net Neutrality Rules
March 12, 2015
FCC issues the Open Internet Order
FCC publishes the Open Internet Rules in the Federal Register.
April 22, 2015
Public Knowledge Files to Intervene in Support of FCC
Public Knowledge files to intervene in support of the Federal Communications Commission against Internet service provider lawsuits to overturn the FCC’s Open Internet rules. The filing defends the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service.
May 1, 2015
Carriers Petition FCC to Partially Stay Open Internet Order
U.S. Telecom Association, CTIA--The Wireless Association, AT&T, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, and CenturyLink petition the Federal Communications Commission to partially stay the implementation of the FCC’s Open Internet Order.
May 8, 2015
FCC Denies Carrier Petition to Stay Open Internet Order
Federal Communications Commission denies Petitions for Stayfrom multiple parties who asked the FCC to delay applying their landmark Open Internet Order.
December 4, 2015
Oral Arguments in Challenge to Open Internet Order
D.C. Circuit hears argumentsconcerning the challenge to the FCC's Open Internet rules. Public Knowledge attorneys defend the FCC's legal authority to create net neutrality rules.
June 14, 2016
D.C. Circuit Affirms Open Internet Order
D.C. Circuit affirms the FCC's Open Internet rules, protecting net neutrality for consumers using both wired and wireless connections to access the internet. Again, the law affirms that no Internet Service Provider should be able to block or throttle your connection to control your online experience.
April 26, 2017
New FCC Chairman Pai Announces Plan to Roll Back Net Neutrality Rules
The new FCC's Chairman, Ajit Pai, publicly confirms his intent to roll back the 2015 Open Internet Order by announcing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking during a speech to industry professionals. The NPRM would begin the new Chairman's process for seeking comment on how to reverse the agency's popular net neutrality rules.
May 1, 2017
DC Circuit Court Upholds Open Internet Rules—Again
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denies petitions asking the court to reconsider its decision upholding the FCC's 2015 Open Internet Order, which established net neutrality rules.
May 7, 2017
Net Neutrality Returns to Last Week Tonight
John Oliver revisits the net neutrality debate, encouraging viewers to once again defend the rules by submitting comments to the FCC at gofccyourself.com, again crashing the agency's comment filing system.
May 18, 2017
FCC Votes to Begin Rollback Process of Net Neutrality Rules
The FCC votes along party lines 2-1 to begin moving forward on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking targeting the 2015 net neutrality rules, opening the door to public comment on the current rules and possible revisions that rely on "voluntary" net neutrality agreements from internet service providers. The vote is met by a net neutrality rally urging the FCC to preserve the rules.
November 21, 2017
FCC Chairman Pai Moves to Strip Americans of Net Neutrality Protections
FCC Chairman Pai circulates the "Restoring Internet Freedom" draft Order to roll back the agency's 2015 net neutrality rules. The rules force internet service providers to treat all internet content and services equally. FCC Abandons Consumer Protection Responsibility With Net Neutrality Repeal The FCC votes to adopt Chairman Pai's "Restoring Internet Freeodm" proposal, abandoning the agency's longstanding commitment to protect the Open Internet. Chairman Pai's proposal to repeal the net neutrality rules is a deeply troubling and radical break from almost 20 years of bipartisan tradition of protecting the Open Internet.
December 14, 2017
Senator Markey Announces Plan to Undo the FCC's Vote to Roll Back Net Neutrality
Senator Markey (D-Mass.) announces he plans to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to overtune the FCC's net neutrality repeal, which would restore the agency's 2015 rules. More than 15 senators agree to support a CRA to restore the rules.