Net Neutrality: What does it mean? How does it impact PR?

Net NeutralityPhoto credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission approved the policy known as net neutrality by a 3-2 vote this week.

The policy ensures “that no one – whether government or corporation – should control free open access to the Internet,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

The topic is dense and can be confusing for even the most tech-savvy of us all. Basically, the FCC proposal is that the Internet will be classified as a public telecommunications utility, meaning the government can regulate it.

This proposal also stipulates that Internet service providers are to be a neutral gateway, instead of handling different types of Internet traffic in different ways and at varying costs—in other words, no fast lanes.

How It Impacts Communicators

  • The government guarantees protection against fast lanes to give consumers access to reliable, fast Internet connection
  • Regulations for service providers indicate that the government is backing communicators against greedy service providers
  • Companies will be forced to prove that all new services comply with the law, impeding the speed and reliability of service providers having to deal with the FCC’s regulations
  • Regulations could challenge investment in new Internet technology and infrastructure
  • If the Internet becomes unreliable, communicators may be forced to ditch social media and real-time, and revisit traditional communications vehicles instead

Reactions: For and Against

The ACLU’s legislative counsel Gabe Rottman says:

“This is a victory for free speech, plain and simple. Americans use the Internet not just to work and play, but to discuss politics and learn about the world around them. The FCC has a critical role to play in protecting citizens’ ability to see what they want and say what they want online, without interference. Title II provides the firmest possible foundation for such protections . . .”

Broadband for America, a group whose members include major Internet service providers is calling for Congress to intervene. Its honorary co-chairs John Sununu and Harold Ford Jr. say:

“The FCC’s decision to impose obsolete telephone-era regulations on the high-speed Internet is one giant step backwards for America’s broadband networks and everyone who depends upon them. These ‘Title II’ rules go far beyond protecting the Open Internet, launching a costly and destructive era of government micromanagement that will discourage private investment in new networks and slow down the breakneck innovation that is the soul of the Internet today.”

A post written by Comcast executive vice president David Cohen reads:

“We fully embrace the open Internet principles that have been laid out by President Obama and Chairman Wheeler and that now have been adopted by the FCC. We just don’t believe statutory provisions designed for the telephone industry and adopted when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president should be stretched to govern the 21stcentury Internet.” 

Verizon issued a statement written in Morse code and titled “FCC’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ Move Imposes 1930s Rules on the Internet.” In a translated version of Verizon’s statement, the company rebuked the FCC for deciding “to change the way the commercial Internet has operated since its creation.”

Netflix said, “The net neutrality debate is about who picks winners and losers online: Internet service providers or consumers. Today, the FCC settled it: Consumers win.”

What are your views on the issue?

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