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OAKLAND, CA — Today, California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (CALPIRG Ed Fund) released a new report titled, “Net Neutrality: What’s At Stake & How to Protect It.” The report sets forth a working definition of net neutrality, explains its relevance, outlines appropriate regulatory responses, and concludes with a Question & Answer section highlighting key issues surrounding net neutrality.
“Net neutrality principles have allowed the Internet to grow from an academic research tool into the multi-billion dollar global industry it is today,” said CALPIRG Consumer Advocate Jon Fox. “This report explains why preserving net neutrality is important, and what can be done to protect it.”
At its core, net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) — such as AT&T, Time Warner or Comcast — must send and receive all Internet data without delay or preference through their networks. In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the Open Internet Order, formalizing net neutrality principles into industry guidelines. The order prevents ISPs from blocking or unreasonably discriminating against different types of Internet traffic. Any attempt by ISPs to give preferential treatment to their own services, while blocking or slowing down competing services, is a violation of these net neutrality rules.
“ISPs already charge for better Internet speeds,” said Jon Fox, “But once online, net neutrality rules prevent ISPs from putting up additional barriers to online content simply to boost profits.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) is about to rule on a case in which Verizon challenged the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order. In its court filings, Verizon argued that it has a constitutionally protected First Amendment right that allows it to choose what is “said” over its networks, much like a newspaper can choose what is “said” on its front page. Furthermore, Verizon is arguing that the FCC has authority to enforce net neutrality rules only over business defined as “common carriers,” while the FCC currently recognizes Verizon as an “information service” provider. Verizon is asking the D.C. Circuit court to eliminate the rules that prevent it from discriminating among online traffic and applications by establishing tiers of online service where those who pay more receive better service.
“ISPs are trying to undermine net neutrality principles, but we shouldn’t allow them to fundamentally change the Internet just so that they can increase their profits,” warned Jon Fox. “If ISPs are allowed to create a tiered Internet where those who pay more get preferential treatment while others are blocked or slowed down, innovative new businesses will be blocked and consumers will have fewer choices online.”
The absence of net neutrality rules could create a “pay to play” reality where only those businesses that are able and willing to pay ISPs can reach end users and markets. This is particularly worrisome in the United States, where ISPs like Comcast also create online content (through its ownership of NBC Universal) that competes with other content providers such as Netflix.
The FCC should take back the authority it wrongly gave up in the early 2000s and classify ISPs as regulated “common carriers” instead of the weaker “information services” as they are defined today. Correctly placing a “common carriers” framework on ISPs will give the FCC with the authority it needs to ensure fair and open access to the Internet for millions of Americans, while also strengthening the FCC’s arguments before the Circuit court.
CALPIRG Education Fund recommends that the FCC take practical steps and enforce the following guidelines to ensure a robust and open World Wide Web:
- Net Neutrality: All data traffic should be treated equally regardless of its origin, sender, recipient or content. This means strict prohibitions on online censorship, blocking or throttling.
- End-to-End Service: Users must be able to efficiently connect to all end-points on the web, without any restrictions or delays.
- Multiple Platforms: With millions of Americans now accessing the web via smartphones and mobile tablets, the FCC must also have authority over wireless Internet service providers — not just traditional wired Internet services.
- Open Internet: ISPs shall not interfere with Internet users’ freedom to access content and use applications online from any location or device, unless such interference is absolutely necessary for network management, preserving network security and safety, protecting consumers from spam or other malicious content, or the fulfillment of legal obligations.
“In today’s market, ISPs already decide where we can and cannot access the web, at what speeds, and from which devices,” said Jon Fox. “Past experience has taught us that when powerful telecom businesses loosen the rules, consumers lose out and end up paying more for less. The FCC must watch over powerful ISPs to remove barriers so that Americans can enjoy the Internet’s fullest potential.”
To download a pdf version of the report Net Neutrality: What’s At Stake & How to Protect It click HERE.
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California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety and well-being.
 See Verizon v. FCC, Case No: 11-1355, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court.
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