So the FCC just voted to classify broadband internet service as a public utility.
Let the simultaneous cries of outrage and joy begin!
But in the midst of the angry outbursts about government interference and the happy conversations about a free and open internet, there can be some questions about what all of this really means. Let me take a stab at it for you.
I’ve published a couple of blog posts explaining what net neutrality is in an effort to clarify it’s importance. But now that this ruling has come down, I want to discuss how this affects us regular consumers.
Let’s start with the ruling.
Today the FCC ruled in a 3 to 2 vote to classify broadband internet service as a public utility.
What does this mean?
In a nutshell, it means that broadband internet will be considered a telecommunications service rather than an information service. So rather than it being classified as a tool that provides information, it’s being classified in the same category as public utilities like water, sewerage, gas and electricity. These are services that are provided by consumers through a company that creates an infrastructure for those services and are owned by the government or managed by the public that they serve.
Why was this necessary?
For years, government and public officials have been trying to figure out how to police the internet. Up until now, it has essentially been the wild, wild west. Cybercrimes are virtually impossible to prosecute and the responsibility of using the internet often falls on the user. So if someone does something shady or inappropriate and it causes you harm, you have to prove that you were harmed. And even if you’re able to do that, it doesn’t guarantee that the person will experience any consequences for their actions.
But crime is only one reason why government officials want to manage the internet. It’s ultimately about access to information. Remember Edward Snowden?
He took sensitive government documents and made them available to the general public online. But he’s an extreme example. There is a lot of information that can be found online. This has to be managed, right?
No. It’s been fine without their management.
I get that. This is what some opponents of the classification have been saying. They don’t think the internet needs to be managed at all. And this is a valid opinion that will likely lead to several lawsuits fighting this ruling.
But let’s be honest. The government has been looking for a way to manage the internet for years. While I understand why some people would say that their interference is unnecessary, I think it was inevitable. By doing things this way, the initial thought is that the FCC is going to work hard to keep the internet free and open.
This is what the supporters of this classification have been saying. They want to keep the internet free and open. We all see the government trying to find a way to manage it. At least in this case, they are saying they won’t try to control it.
Now that we have this ruling, the conversation about the management of the internet isn’t yet over. It’s likely going to disappear behind the political doors of government. So, these lawsuits and debates will continue to be had but by political pundits, talking heads and government officials.
But as consumers, we need to make it a point to keep our eyes on this conversation. When the dust around this issue settles, we will be affected by the outcome. Broadband internet service isn’t just something used by large government entities. It’s something that everyone uses—everyday. We all know what happens once something is in the hands of the government. It can become a bargaining tool. Corporations have millions (sometimes billions) of dollars to ensure that their best interests are kept in mind. Us regular consumers don’t have the luxury of teams of lawyers and millions (or billions) of dollars at our disposal. Should someone decide to tweak what free and open internet means, we would be affected by that tweak. We can’t afford to let this conversation disappear behind the political wall.
So please, ask me any questions you may have. I will research and do my best to explain things. Open access to the internet isn’t just an issue for large telecommunications companies. It’s an issue for us consumers too.