Internet as a public utility

The ruling will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. But it is important because this particular court has previously thrown out past efforts by the FCC to create similar rules governing internet access. In 2014, it found that the FCC lacked the authority to make net neutrality rules, because it did not yet classify internet service in the same way it did telephone service—as a “utility” worthy of special protections.

The FCC reclassified internet service in the 2015 Order as “Title II,” acknowledging that internet service has become a utility, a necessity in daily life. Title II service providers—like phone companies—are not allowed to discriminate in the service they provide. Creating a “fast lane” would amount to discrimination based on the content of the data being transmitted.

Investments and profits

Internet service providers are fighting the rules because they are frustrated that they spend huge amounts of money building and expanding the infrastructure of the internet, which other companies profit from. Some of those companies, such as Netflix, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, make significant, even extraordinary, amounts of money.

Net neutrality doesn’t solve this desire of the companies that provide the backbone of internet communications to be rewarded as richly as the companies using it. Internet service providers view this as a fundamental unfairness. They are, after all, handling more and more data every year. But attempting to solve this issue by allowing paid, fast-lane service would remake the web in ways that would punish internet users more than these companies. Fast-lane fees would be passed on to consumers, consumers’ use of vital but noncommercial sites could be comparatively tedious, and internet service providers could advantage content and sites they own.

Video streaming services are of particular concern to service companies because because video files are so large and take up so much network capacity. A December 2015 report from Canadian networking company Sandvine found that during peak evening hours, streaming audio and video accounted for 70% of North American internet downloading activity, up from 35% five years earlier.

Net neutrality also doesn’t solve the problem that most Americans do not live in areas served by more than one high-speed internet service, let alone those in rural America who don’t even have one. Customers who dislike the content priorities and policies of their provider can’t change companies, making net neutrality an important preventative measure in this uncompetitive marketplace.

In most of the country, those who want or need broadband service must accept the terms and conditions of a single service provider. Now, at least, that company can’t favor certain types of online activity over others, just for the sake of its own profits.

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