3 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Net Neutrality And The FCC


Protesters demonstrate across the street from the Comcast Center Monday, Sept. 15, 2014, in Philadelphia. Demonstrators expressed opposition to the proposed merger of communications companies Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc., and called for further Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation of Internet traffic to support "net neutrality," advocates who want strong government protections for the open Internet.

The time is nigh: In two days, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on its controversial proposal to enforce net neutrality rules and regulate it as a utility. Despite being the biggest policy issue of 2014 and President Barack Obama coming out strong in favor of it, there is still lots of misinformation swirling around the FCC’s proposal and how it will affect consumers.

ThinkProgress talked to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of intellectual property Corynne McSherry about what the top myths and misconceptions surrounding net neutrality debate are before the FCC’s final vote Thursday:

Myth: The FCC Is Regulating The Internet

“The FCC is not regulating the internet, the FCC is looking to regulate broadband service,” said McSherry, who said net neutrality supporters and opponents have been guilty of confusing the two. “The internet is many things, but most of the internet is outside of the FCC’s authority.”

“The open internet rules and classifying the internet as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act have nothing to do with the FCC regulating content,” she said. “They won’t use Title II as an excuse to control what you watch.”

“The FCC does have this other role — monitoring vulgar or explicit content on the radio and television — but with net neutrality, it’s not regulating content in that sense,” McSherry said. “They are putting in rules of the road for internet service providers (ISPs) that tell them they have to treat online traffic equally.”

Earlier this month, a conservative advocacy group Protect Internet Freedom released a video bashing the FCC’s proposal to treat the internet as a utility, suggesting that it would mean more government intrusion into how people use the internet and what services they use most.

“It’s kind of the opposite,” McSherry said. “The point of net neutrality rules is so that broadband providers won’t treat traffic differently, so it keeps people from snooping on your web traffic.” That way knowing how much data someone is using and for what wouldn’t be necessary.

Myth: Net Neutrality Means No Discrimination

“Net neutrality does not mean no discrimination. Sometimes we use shorthand in describing it and say ‘no discrimination on the internet,’ but what we’re really saying is no unfair discrimination,” she said. “That means ISPs can’t say ‘I’m going to favor this service or application over another service or application, and deliver it at faster speeds because they’re paying me a little extra.'”

If those sort of deals were in place, McSherry said, it would mean that companies could pay a fee to make sure traffic to their site would be delivered first, before those who didn’t or couldn’t pay the fee.

“For example, my ISP’s website and Bank of America’s site are really fast. But Wells Fargo, every time I go to their site, it’s slow and mucky. So I’m switching to Bank of America. But what you don’t know is that Bank of America made a deal with Comcast and Wells Fargo didn’t pay the piper.”

McSherry said there would still be instances where some internet service would be better quality or faster based on the broadband packages consumers buy, such as the difference between business-level service and residential-level services.

Myth: Apps And Services That Use A Lot Of Data Should Pay Extra For It

ISPs have long made the argument that services or websites that take up a lot of internet traffice should pay for the extra bandwidth they’re using. But McSherry said broadband providers are already being paid for their service, and “saying ‘there’s nothing wrong with services paying for heavy bandwidth’ means you’re blaming services such as Netflix for being a successful.”

“I think that the broadband providers like to suggest that this is really about charging companies making an unusual use of bandwidth and they should pay for that,” she said. “What’s really happening is that the provider’s customers are eager to use that service and are paying for it and the use of their pipes through their service contracts.”

“You don’t want to have a situation where companies can double-dip. Netflix can afford to pay the fee. I’m not worried about Netflix,” McSherry said. “I’m worried about the little sites that are offering alternative movies, the ones we haven’t heard of that can’t compete.”

Without net neutrality the internet would only be full of services and sites that can afford to pay the fee, “where the internet looks like Google plus Facebook plus Netflix,” she said.