Government To Enforce 'Net Neutrality' Principle

John Lister's picture

Should websites like Netflix pay extra fees to deliver their Internet-based services to the public?

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says no. Tom Wheeler says that broadband should be treated like a utility, such as phone services; in doing so, it will help to protect Internet freedoms. Critics, however, suggest that such a plan would be unworkable.

Tom Wheeler's announcement has to do with the principle of net neutrality. That's the idea where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all Internet traffic (except for illegal content) equally. In other words, ISPs would not be able to block or slow down particular traffic, and would not be able to charge websites extra fees to make connections to a particular site or service run faster.

Supporters of net neutrality say that this fundamental concept allows small websites and services a fighting chance while competing with larger rivals. Many ISPs are opposed to the idea of net neutrality, however. For example, several believe that firms such as Netflix which deliver a large amount of Internet traffic, benefit disproportionately from high speed Internet connections, and should pay fees to the carrier towards those costs.

Net Neutrality Already Government Policy

Upholding net neutrality is an official stated policy of the US government, but it has ran into difficulties in recent years. The FCC brought in new rules to regulate Internet carriers in 2010, but those rules were thrown out by an appeals court last year after a challenge by Verizon.

The problem is that back in 2002, the FCC officially classed broadband as an information service (known legally as 'Title I'), meaning it comes under looser regulations than telecommunications services ('Title II'), such as ordinary telephone lines. The court ruled that the FCC doesn't have the powers to force Internet carriers to treat all traffic equally.

After a year of speculation, Wheeler has now confirmed that he proposes reclassifying broadband as a Title II service, essentially providing the FCC the ability to enforce the net neutrality rules. (Source:

Legal Challenge Looks Likely

While that ends one front in the legal battle, it opens up another. Several broadband providers, including Verizon, have threatened legal action. They will likely make two arguments: that the FCC simply doesn't have the authority to make this change without Congressional approval, and that the change would give the FCC too much power over the Internet. (Source:

In response, Wheeler says the FCC will tweak the regulatory powers that come with of Title II to be more relevant to broadband. In particular, he says the FCC will not have the power to control or influence how much Internet providers charge customers, unlike the way phone service charges are regulated.

What's Your Opinion?

Is the FCC right to make this change? Should the government force providers to treat all Internet traffic equally? Or should this be an issue for a totally free market, where firms willing to pay can get an advantage in reaching users and customers?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Communication firms already have a near-monopoly and make insane profits. I'm for a free Internet where the playing field is a little bit more level, competition of services results in lower prices, and where greedy firms can't get greedier nickel-and-diming their customers for sub-par services. Services like Netflix drive innovation and should not be stifled. If it wasn't for Netflix, we wouldn't see other options like Amazon Prime Instant Video, which in turn keeps prices low - and above all, fair.

gi7omy's picture

A lot of ISPs already charge their users for 'exceeding their bandwidth allowance' when they stream movies. Now they want to charge the streaming companies for supplying the data.

Looks like they really want to be paid twice for the same 'service'

russoule's picture

Isn't it strange that in our country which is dedicated to "freedom", we have politicians and bureaucrats who sole purpose in life seems to be to control any and all businesses?

If NetFlix uses more bandwidth, then NetFlix should pay more money. If I use more bandwidth to download a movie, I should pay more money. On the other hand, if all I do is read e-mail and sites like this, my bandwidth requirements are small and I shouldn't have to pay a higher fee because my movie-watching, youtube downloading neighbor uses three times as much bandwidth as I do.

Let the ISPs develop their own pricing schedules and keep the government out of it. The only thing that needs to be changed is the strangle-hold each community has on which ISP can offer services in its own little ballpark. Just as the cell-phone providers can compete wherever they wish, so too should the ISPs be able to compete wherever they wish. Then maybe Comcast would have to provide better service at a lower fee than WOW or Bright House or ATT Universe. Competition is the great leveler of every business.

rwells78's picture

If a company spent the money for the internet's infrastructure to move ones and zeros, they should have nearly full say on the price charged. How is this different than the HOV lane on many highways. If you have 2-3 passengers OR pay extra, you can use the HOV lane. How is that significantly different from the internet "fast lane" proposals. If Netflix needs/wants more speed/bandwidth to satisfy their customers AND is willing to pay extra, why shouldn't they get "extra" service from the owners of the internet infrastructure?