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The Whole World is Watching: From Net Neutrality to Open Internet

What's going on?

The FCC is a political commission, and it has the unenviable job of deciding whether and how to "regulate the Internet." It literally does have the authority (if it decides to use it) to control how companies can offer internet access to American residents as part of telecommunications policy. The rest of the world has its own regulations, but often looks to the U.S. for guidance. The FCC has tried to keep the internet neutral by not allowing broadband companies to block or throttle content from specific services, but the rules they used in the past have been deemed illegal by the courts[1].

The Internet is a success - it generates jobs, business, and has become a central part of our daily lives. Why does it work so well? Some say it is the "lack of regulation" to date, but actually that's never really been true. There has always been regulation of one kind or another to protect the consumer and ensure a level competitive playing field. The real problem is that these protections, known as Open Internet, have been stripped away in a series of FCC decisions between 1999 and 2008, and replaced with much weaker "net neutrality" rules. Even those rules were removed this past January in a case brought by Verizon[2].

"Ideally, the government should be involved in the Internet as little as possible.
With net neutrality, the government is being drawn in by the effect that the
monopoly ISPs are having on innovation and competition on the net.
[…I]n this case, the government is fulfilling its traditional role of keeping
those lanes open and toll free."
-U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden[3]

A handful of huge conglomerates have a near monopoly on internet access in the USA. They want the ability to sell fast-lane access to certain services (e.g. Netflix)[4], and to throttle or deny access to those who can't or won't pay their fees. Network neutrality rules forbade that practice up till now. As weak as it was, network neutrality enforced equal treatment of all web traffic, allowing web services to compete based on their innovative approaches and actual value to the consumer rather than how much money they were willing to pay ISP's to make their traffic go faster at the expense of everyone else's.

A lot of Internet companies are saying that without the neutrality rules they would not exist today[5], and since content could not be blocked or slowed at an ISP's whim, we could still access information that might otherwise have been suppressed.

Competition? What competition?

If consumers could switch providers, then this would not be as much of a problem, since the blocking or throttling would become a competitive disadvantage. But if you've ever tried to switch ISP's, you know all too well that the broadband providers have divided the country among themselves - there may only be one choice where you are, and switching is a huge burden even if there are more than one. Without meaningful competition, prices go up while service levels fall, and the consumer is the one who suffers, along with up-and-coming services who can't pay their way past the barrier of entry.

What should the FCC do?

It's complicated. The FCC has some very hard political choices to make. We have met with Chairman Wheeler, and discussed what he is up against. It's very daunting to oppose the telecom industry; the only way we will succeed is if we can, collectively, make more noise than the companies exploiting both sides of web traffic.

Gandi joins the Internet Infrastructure Coalition and many others in calling for one thing:
The FCC must use its powerful "Title II" authority to regulate internet access as a utility.

This will allow the FCC to have a clear authority to impose common carrier restrictions on the big network providers, and to ensure that they allow for more competition where there currently is far too little: the ISP market. The monolithic providers like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others will oppose this threat to their business model. They are making astronomical profits, want to keep doing so, and to make even more by charging the application providers for fast lanes. It's not good for consumers, it's not good for the Internet, and it's not good for innovation. Most importantly, it erodes the free and open Internet that Gandi has pledged to support.

We ask you to join us, the EFF, Fight for the Future, and many, many others to urge the FCC to do the right thing. Chairman Wheeler has said that Title II is "on the table" and he will use it if we convince him and the other commissioners that it is the right move, right now.

There are huge problems still to solve. There is a danger that Title II won't solve the problem, or will be implemented badly, not enforced, or used to regulate application providers, service providers like Gandi, and even to stifle the very innovation we are trying to protect. What about mobile Internet access? Who will be the next FCC chairman? Should the internet access providers that dominate the market be forced to allow common carrier access to the networks they run (which were built with taxpayer funds, we might add)?

This is not over with the rules that the FCC adopts this round. All these issues need to be dealt with, but we can't miss this opportunity.

Battle for the net The deadline is tomorrow! Click here to submit your comments to the FCC right now.

[1] The Net Neutrality Battle Has Been Lost. Slate.com
[2] Verizon vs FCC
[3] Senator Ron Wyden's AMA on reddit
[3] For For Verizon FiOS Customers, Netflix Streaming Is About to Get Speedier
[4] "If the FCC moves forward with these rules, it’s hard to imagine the next Etsy getting enough of a toehold to grow and succeed like we have." Source: Join Etsy in Fighting for an Open Internet