By: Chloe Albanesius
December 22, 2010
Net neutrality is in the headlines again, but what does it mean for you? Is this just some wonky, inside-the-Beltway chatter that won’t have an impact on our daily lives or an issue that will affect how we access the Web in the future? The short answer is: both.
The basic news is that the Federal Communications Commission approved net neutrality rules yesterday and those rules give the commission the authority to step into disputes about how Internet service providers are managing their networks or initiate their own investigations if they think ISPs are violating its rules.
One important thing to note is that the FCC hasn’t actually released the full text of its net neutrality rules yet. The Republican commissioners voted against the plan yesterday, and according to FCC procedures, the commission must respond to any dissent before releasing its rules. So it could be another day or two before the commission adds that response and publishes the rules.
That being said, the FCC did provide an overview of what’s included in the order and it breaks down to three high-level rules: transparency; no blocking; and no unreasonable discrimination.
Transparency: Does your ISP slow down its network at peak times? Does it have a usage cap? What about roaming fees? The transparency requirement basically requires broadband providers – fixed and wireless – to be more transparent about their activities. They need to be upfront about how they manage their networks, how well (or poorly) their networks perform, as well as details about their plan options and pricing. Most ISPs would argue that they already do this, but if you disagree, you could conceivably take it up with the FCC.
No Blocking: Much of this net neutrality debate started in 2007 when Comcast was accused of blocking access to P2P networks like BitTorrent because people using BitTorrent on Comcast’s network were slowing down the experience for everyone else. Comcast denied cutting off access completely but said it did delay access to P2P sites during peak times. Under the FCC rules, an ISP would not be able to pick and choose apps or service to block in order to improve network performance. Your ISP would not be able to block access to Netflix’s streaming service, for example, or Xbox Live just because a select few people were clogging the system.