If you’ve been following the news, you may have heard about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) discussions over Title II and Internet regulations. For many, this wonkish jargon may appear confusing, dull, or simply nonsensical. Luckily, this article will give readers a simple explanation of Title II and the principle of net neutrality.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated the same. It is based on the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon, should not have the ability to charge different customers different prices for visiting certain websites.
What is Title II?
Title II refers to utility-based government regulation of the Internet that could help implement Net Neutrality. Title II assumes the Internet to be equivalent to a public utility, such as water or electricity. Since public utilities are regulated monopolies (MG&E, for example is the sole provider of electricity in Madison), Title II also aims to make broadband companies a regulated monopoly. Doing so would enable the government to make sure that Internet Service Providers would charge all customers equally by setting price controls, much like what we see in electricity prices
How does it affect society?
Although Net Neutrality and Title II seem to have positive intentions, the potential effects it could have on Internet innovation and the average consumer could be quite devastating. Firstly, it is not clear whether the Internet should be considered a public utility due to its constant innovation. Over the past 30 years, the water delivery system to homes has hardly changed, while the Internet has gotten cheaper and faster through more advanced delivery methods (wireless and fiber-optic technologies). By regulating Internet Service Providers like public utilities, competition may be reduced and innovation may ultimately suffer. Furthermore, Title II may result in the heaviest users of the Internet being subsidized by other users, despite the fact that the heaviest users cause the most investment in the network. The heaviest users of internet, often tech companies, stretch the limits of broadband networks and are the main reason why Internet Service Providers have to increase capacity to meet that demand. For example it’s estimated that Netflix takes up 33% of the United States bandwidth during peak hours. Opponents of Title II think that it is fair that Internet Service Providers should be able to charge Netflix higher rates because Netflix disproportionately causes higher investment in broadband networks. On that same note, the fact that they have to charge all customers equally could raise the cost of Internet for the average customer.
Net Neutrality and Title II are complicated principles and ideas that could greatly affect Internet policy for decades to come. Although Net Neutrality and Title II appear egalitarian, it could create an unfair pay system and hamper Internet innovation.