FCC to decide on net neutrality’s future

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The FCC is gearing up for a vote aimed at regaining regulatory power over ISPs and reinstating federal net neutrality rules discarded by the Trump administration in 2017. Net neutrality is designed to ensure that the choices of internet users, not ISPs, dictate online activities.

Early in April, the FCC revealed its draft rules, which have since garnered praise for various reasons. Notably, the rules demand an end to the practice by mobile carriers such as T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon of diminishing video quality for mobile users. Furthermore, the proposal supports state-level net neutrality laws, like California’s, and introduces stricter regulations to prevent ISPs from bypassing net neutrality at data entry points to their networks.

Nonetheless, the drafted regulations have sparked controversy for potentially enabling mobile ISPs to favour certain applications by placing them in so-called “fast lanes,” ensuring superior performance generally, and particularly under network congestion.

Practices involving “fast lanes” – using network slicing – are currently under exploration by T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon. These lanes would prioritise specific apps, such as video conferencing and gaming, selected by the ISPs.

Although the draft rules stipulate that app providers cannot be charged for this expedited service, the move has raised concerns regarding its alignment with core net neutrality principles.

Critics argue that such ISP-controlled fast lanes could severely limit consumer choice, distort competition, negatively impact startups, and further entrench the dominance of big tech platforms. Net neutrality advocates believe in an internet where users’ decisions – not ISPs’ – shape online success and innovation and emphasise that any form of prioritisation infringes upon these values.

The prospect of fast lanes benefits hegemonic apps, potentially sidelining smaller-scale applications and services that enrich the internet’s diversity. The draft order’s approach to “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” has been met with apprehension by various stakeholders – including law professionals, public interest groups, and technology advocates – who call for a clear prohibition against such ISP practices in the FCC’s final regulation.

The ongoing debate underscores the pivotal role of the FCC in safeguarding an equitable digital space, emphasising the necessity for explicit rules against both implicit and explicit forms of online content prioritisation by ISPs.

As the FCC nears its vote on 25 April 2024, the tech community and internet users await decisive action that will redefine the landscape of net neutrality regulations.

(Photo by Nareeta Martin)

See also: T-Mobile staff receiving cash offers to help with SIM swap attacks

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Tags: broadband, connectivity, fcc, government, internet, law, legal, net neutrality, Networks, Operators, politics, regulation, web


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