What is net neutrality?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Net neutrality rules put in place under the Obama administration are at risk of being overturned.

Monday marked the last day the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is accepting general comments on net neutrality following a proposal by President Donald Trump’s appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, who suggested in May removing the classification for internet service providers (ISPs) as a public utility. This could allow ISPs the potential to charge more for consumers to access different websites.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs treat all content equally and do not give preference to specific digital content providers. That means the consumer can load every website, app, video, gif, etc., equally, regardless of where the content is hosted. For example, an ISP cannot charge more for sites that stream movies or promote a specific agenda. This is also referred to as the open internet.

When was the current net neutrality law passed?

After a request from President Obama following public comments, the FCC voted in February 2015 to classify consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II Order of the 1934 Communications Act. Under that law, the FCC adopted no-blocking, no-throttling and no-paid-prioritization rules, according to the notice of proposed rulemaking released by the FCC. The measure controls how companies provide services to consumers. Under this order, the internet is deemed a common carrier or public utility so ISPs are regulated. Other public utilities include electricity or phone services.

Who supports the Title II classification?

Supporters of Title II classification say it keeps the internet open and accessible to anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Without the current regulations, they claim ISPs could charge more for access to specific sites and create censorship.

Without it, consumers would be “paying more money to their internet companies to get a less diverse, less interesting [internet],” Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, a nonprofit group focusing on digital rights, told ABC News.

“You can’t have real net neutrality because the FCC can’t enforce it and the courts have made this clear,” Mark Stanley, director of communications at Demand Progress, a national grassroots group that focuses on a number of issues including internet freedom, added.

Stanley is referring to the 2014 Verizon v. FCC lawsuit, in which the courts deemed that the FCC did not have authority to enforce portions of the Open Internet Order because ISPs were not considered common carriers, i.e. public utilities. In 2015, the FCC voted to deem ISPs common carriers and therefore put them under the jurisdiction of a Title II order. It’s worth noting that the current FCC chair, Pai, previously served as associate general counsel for Verizon Communications in 2001 to 2003, according to his FCC biography.

Net Neutrality Day

On July 12, 2017, supporters of the current regulations organized a day of action. Both Stanley and Greer confirmed to ABC News that over two million comments were submitted to the FCC during the day of action. Stanley said this shows that “only in Washington is this a political issue. We’d like to see the FCC to drop their proposal to roll back net neutrality protections.”

“So much of [the support] came from the small players who really have the most to lose here,” said Green.

Stanley said they consider as allies smaller ISPs who came out in support of the day of action and the current FCC regulations. Sonic, a mid-size regional ISP, took a stance in support in an effort to “protect the internet and protect competition.”

“We take that position because there isn’t enough competitive pressure to create a truly fair market place in the U.S.,” Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, told ABC News. He went on to explain that most American households only have one to two choices of ISPs, so “in an environment where you don’t have effective competition, I think regulation is necessary [to create a level playing field].”

Large companies like Twitter, Netflix and Google also signed on in support of the day of action. In an online statement, Twitter said, “The FCC should abandon its misguided effort to obviate all the work that has been done on behalf of all Internet users.”

Who opposes the Title II classification?

Opponents of the Title II classification argue that the regulations are unnecessary and hamper job creation and free market competition.

The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) released a statement supporting an open internet. They support net neutrality but feel the current regulations passed in 2015 do not promote a free internet.

“We’ve always been committed to an open internet that gives you the freedom to be in charge of your online experience. And that will not change,” NCTA said.

Verizon directed ABC News to an online statement, where it reiterated its support for an open internet. The company said it does not agree that the best way to achieve an open internet is through utility regulations on ISPs and cited fake news and bad actors as an example of a pitfall.

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