Returning to Net Neutrality

Bernie Sanders has recently posted a meme on Facebook saying that “The path to a free and open Internet is to reclassify it as a telecommunications service so that we can ensure equal access to and for all.”

That may seem odd, given the high prices of some telecommunications today, such as cell phones. But here’s what’s going on.

So far, we’ve had it pretty good here in the US. We have enjoyed what’s called net neutrality, because the FCC has protected us. Now, that protection has been threatened. On January 14, Verizon has won an appeal against the FCC in a Federal Appeals Court in Washington, DC. This means that in the near future, carriers like Verizon may decide to charge for different amount of bandwidth. Wealthy persons and corporations could soon be given greater access to the internet than the rest of us. Ordinary people may find their service slowing way down if they cannot afford to pay top dollar for premium services.

US Circuit Judge David Tatel explained, “Given that the commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.”

This stems from the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which distinguished between telecommunication providers and information providers. The FCC can regulate common carriers, as the law is now written, but they cannot regulate the information providers.

“Without prompt corrective action by the commission to reclassify broadband,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and a Common Cause adviser, “this awful ruling will serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech.”