US campaigners rejoiced in 2015 when ‘net neutrality’ enshrined the internet as a free and level playing field. A vote on 18 May could take it all back
Thursday 26 February 2015 was a good day for internet freedom campaigners. On that day the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to more strictly regulate internet service providers (ISPs) and to enshrine the principles of “net neutrality” as law.
The vote reclassified wireless and fixed-line broadband service providers as Title II “common carriers”, a public utility-type designation that gives the FCC the ability to set rates, open up access to competitors and more closely regulate the industry.
“The internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. “It’s simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field.”
Two years on and Trump’s new FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has announced plans to overturn the 2015 order, in turn gutting net neutrality. A vote on this proposal is due to take place on 18 May. Here’s why it matters.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) treat everyone’s data equally, whether that’s an email from your mom, a bank transfer, or a streamed episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. It means that ISPs don’t get to choose which data is sent more quickly and which sites get blocked or throttled (for example slowing the delivery of a TV show because it’s streamed by a video company that competes with a subsidiary of the ISP) and who has to pay extra. For this reason some have described net neutrality as the “first amendment of the internet”.