It’s been two years since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially revoked net neutrality. A lot has happened since, but the debate over whether net neutrality is good or bad and whether it will ever be restored is still ongoing.
Net neutrality (also known as the Open Internet) is the principle of treating all internet connections equally. If there’s no net neutrality, internet service providers (ISPs) can discriminate against websites or services and regulate what users can and can’t see.
The FCC first started talking about rolling back net neutrality rules in 2017. No longer classified under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, ISPs could charge companies for speeding up their services, slowing down those of their competitors, or blocking internet access altogether.
By the end of 2017, the FCC had revoked net neutrality and allowed ISPs to sell their users’ data without their permission. In 2019, the House of Representatives attempted to reinstate net neutrality, but that effort is still underway. You can watch this video to find out more about the net neutrality debate.
Net neutrality affects both internet users and internet service providers in very different ways, so there are a lot of arguments for and against it. From the consumers’ point of view, net neutrality is a guarantee that all connections are treated equally and ISPs won’t censor the internet. To ISPs, it means that the government will heavily control how they do their business, possibly preventing them from getting extra income to improve infrastructure.
2015 was a good year for net neutrality proponents. The FCC classified ISPs as common carriers and passed a new net neutrality order. They got sued by telecoms once again, though this time the court sided with the FCC. Open internet was just around the corner. But in 2017, the FCC received a new chairman, Ajit Pai, who revoked the 2015 net neutrality rules and put everything back to square one.
The net neutrality repeal still stands and the debate whether it will be reinstated continues. However, not all is bad. In 2019, pro net neutrality consumer groups, the District of Columbia, and the attorney generals of 22 states sued the FCC’s decision to reverse net neutrality rules. And won. This was a huge victory for net neutrality proponents, as it meant that under future leadership the FCC will be allowed to classify ISPs as common carriers (or as they see fit). On the other hand, they won’t be able to dispute the laws and regulations that were issued by individual states, making the future of net neutrality ever more confusing.
ISPs can only throttle your connection if they see what you do online: for example, that you prefer streaming movies on Netflix rather than on Disney+. To avoid bandwidth throttling and content blocking, use a VPN.
A VPN service routes your internet traffic through a VPN server, encrypting it and making it invisible to ISPs and hackers. This way the ISP can’t see your browsing habits and cannot throttle your connection or interfere in any other ways. Remember, however, that it doesn’t make you completely invisible to your ISP. They still know who you are and that you’re connected to a VPN. It's just that your traffic will look gibberish to them.
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