On an abnormal night in 2017, the FCC website crashed overnight due to unusually high traffic of consumer complaints, following an episode of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight on HBO. It was like déjà vu; something similar took place in 2014 as well.
But what was all the fuss about?
Apparently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)was going to introduce a new set of rules that would jeopardise free internet into the foreseeable future. So, John nudged his audiences into submitting hundreds of thousands of complaints to the FCC website in favour of preserving net neutrality.
Net neutrality has been an integral part of the Internet since its very inception and should be preserved in order to protect free and open internet.
But what is net neutrality?
An example here might help.
Imagine you prefer usingGoogle as a search engine whereas your friend, let's call him Dave, likes to use Bing. By principle, net neutrality requires that your internet service provider treat the information traffic from both Bing and Google equally, even though Bing is paying them more money to boost their speed. In other words, ISPs cannot provide preferential treatment to any particular software or website over others.
Why is net neutrality so important?
Net neutrality is important because it allows users to access different websites and parts of the internet at will without nudging them into using a particular website that would benefit the ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T.
As a result, start-ups and independent businesses can flourish. In fact, we would not have Facebook, YouTube or Netflix today if it wasn't for net neutrality.
Net neutrality allowed these nascent companies to flourish and reach the level where they are today.
How is it under attack?
Telecom companies like Comcast, Verizon have an active interest in compromising regulations pertaining to net neutrality. By doing so, they can allegedly create 'fast lanes' on the internet for contents they get paid for against other contents.
For example, if Microsoft paid them more than Google, they would put Bing in the fast lane, while keeping Google in the regular lane. They might even slow down the speed of certain websites they deem to be their competitors.
For example, if Comcast is to launch a streaming service, they might slow down the speed for Netflix to boost the popularity of their own website.
To prevent such events from happening, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) wanted to enforce regulations that would make it illegal for ISPs to temper with internet speed based on contents. However, every single time they were sued by the ISPs and more often than not, they lost due to not having sufficient legal infrastructure in their support.
For example, when the Obama era FCC passed a detailed order to protect net neutrality, they were sued by Verizon and the court ruled in favour of Verizon.
Later that year, the FCC laid out a new order that would reportedly allow for internet 'fast lanes', according to proponents of net neutrality.
This proposal caught the eye of comedian John Oliver, who encouraged his viewers to launch complaints at the FCC website and complain they did. The FCC website crashed as waves of comments came flowing in. Eventually, the agency received about 22 million complaints on the issue and backed down from its proposal.
But this victory was short-lived. After getting elected, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai as the new Commissioner of the FCC, the lawyer who represented Verizon against the agency in 2014. Ajit announced that he would reverse the 2015 order to uphold net neutrality and eventually he achieved his goal in December 2017.
As a result, the FCC lost any jurisdiction over ISPs and could not charge them for creating 'fast lanes' on the internet or throttling certain content over the others. They could only step in if ISPs unfairly blocked any particular content.
But not all hope is lost. With the initiation of the Biden Presidency, things have already begun to change. Just a few days ago, Mozilla accompanied by other internet companies like Dropbox, Eventbrite, Reddit, Vimeo etc. sent a letter to the FCC asking it to reinstate net neutrality regulations like reclassifying ISPs under Title II.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey as well as Alexandria Ocasio Cortez also vowed to introduce legislation that would bring back the Obama era rules to preserve net neutrality.