By: Michael O’Brien
At this moment, you are able to access the Internet via your phone, tablet, or computer and surf the web or watch videos at relatively the same speed as everyone else. But what if in the near future you were unable to stream videos from your best friend’s blog as fast as the latest episode of your favorite Netflix series?
Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T and “interconnect” companies like Cogent and Level 3, which direct web traffic between the user and their ISP, are responsible for building the infrastructure of the Internet. These companies have generally treated the traffic created by a user browsing the Internet equally, meaning that every website is given the same speed and quality. “Net neutrality” is a concept that preserves “a free and open Internet” by treating broadband services like utilities. However, there are no current regulations to restrict ISPs from controlling access to content and level of network services, thereby providing preferred websites premium services. This would give everyone else a baseline service much slower than those websites paying for access to a so-called “fast lane” in the Internet.
In a recent Cnet article, President Obama urged the FCC, which is releasing official guideline in early 2015, to have stricter regulations to preserve net neutrality. The issue before the FCC is whether broadband services should be reclassified under Title II of the Telecommunication Act, which regulates broadcasting, spectrum allotment and other communication services. Those in favor of reclassification argue that Title II would safeguard the Internet as free and fair to all. Those against reclassification argue the regulations would restrict investment in infrastructure and that “toll roads”, for access to the “fast lane”, would provide better service to companies requiring high bandwidth for their content.
The FCC should tighten rules against ISPs from favoring certain web services. Websites could monopolize the Internet space if ISPs provide tiered access, especially since the Internet is considered a basic right by many today. The Internet should be regulated under Title II because like private phone companies, the Internet has become an essential communication tool. Ultimately it is up to the FCC to decide whether Internet service will be included under Title II regulation but as President Obama stated “that [this] kind of gate keeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.”
Bio: Michael O’Brien is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law. He is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law. He holds a B.S. in Kinesiology and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.