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Battle lines drawn in the fight over net neutrality

Net neutrality is the idea, according to the Congressional Research Service, that Internet service providers should treat all data on the Internet equally. This means not discriminating or charging differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. Arguments in favor center on control of data, maintaining digital rights and freedoms, and preserving Internet standards. Arguments against tend to focus on a lower level of investment, deterring competition, and higher costs.

Net neutrality is a hot topic in the U.S., and one that cuts across the bipartisan political system. In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed to drop most network-neutrality rules (which were set during the Obama era). This also involved reclassifying ISPs, plus wired and wireless, as non-common carriers; and to had over most of the Internet policing functions to the Federal Trade Commission or Justice Department.

As an example the current rules prevent Internet service providers from interfering with internet traffic, such as by selecting which types of data get sent quickly, and which types are slowed down or blocked.

The shift is then position of the FCC came with President Donald Trump nominating Ajit Pai from his FCC board position to chairman of the agency, and with the FCC now dividing on a 3-2 Republican majority.

Those in favor of net neutrality have not quietly accepted the decision. In January 2018, fifty senators signed a legislative measure intended to override the FCC decision to deregulate the broadband industry. Then in March 2018, the Congressional Review Act paperwork was filed and this enabled the Senate to vote on the permanence of the new net neutrality rules proposed by the FCC. The vote was passed and a resolution approved to remove the FCC’s new rules on net neutrality. However, due to restrictions on legislative time, there was insufficient time to repeal the rules before the Open Internet Order officially expired.

This has led to activities taking place outside of the political sphere. The companies Free Press, Mozilla plus other challengers to the FCC’s rule to roll back network-neutrality rules have gone to court. The parties have until August 20 to file their briefs.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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