Whether you visit them for serious business or fun, you probably have a slew of websites you turn to most frequently for information and entertainment. Now imagine a situation in which your Internet service provider slows access to your favorite websites but allows a free flow of traffic to other sites.
Such a scenario might seem improbable, but in fact this week a panel of federal court judges considered a dispute over network neutraility rules between the U.S. government and Verizon Communications. Net neutrailty is a fancy way of saying that the networks that deliver the Internet should treat all content, sites, and applications equally and shouldn’t discriminate against certain traffic based on its source, destination, or message. The Federal Communications Commission created the rules in 2010.
While key stakeholders from consumers to small businesses, religious organizations and civil rights groups have come out in support of net neutrality efforts, some in the telecommunications industry continue to oppose the efforts. Verizon, for example, sued the FCC over the rules in 2011.
Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes that the Internet should remain as an open, free forum for all consumers. Nondiscriminatory access to communications is vitally important for commerce in the digital age, especially as more consumers do more shopping online. Most important, you shouldn’t be held back because of industry tactics, such as providing faster services to those websites and app developers who pay extra.
Without net neutrality rules in place, consumers could also be at a disadvantage as more consolidation occurs within the media and telecommunications world. For example, when NBC (a media/content company) moved to purchase Comcast (an Internet service provider), Consumers Union had concerns that Comcast could give preferential treatment to NBC content at the expense of other content providers.
This isn’t the first time that the FCC’s net neutrality rules have faced a challenge. The House of Representatives previously voted in favor of a resolution to strike down the FCC’s rules for net neutrality. It probably won’t be the last.
A decision from the court will probably come down next year. But that won’t stop our work to keep the FCC rules in effect so that you have free, equal access to all that the Internet has to offer.