The Federal Communications Commission adopted new “net neutrality” legislation last week, but the issue remains one of controversy and division along political lines.
The net neutrality rules passed in a 3-2 vote, though the issue will continue to be a source of debate. Both Republican FCC commissioners voted against the legislation, while Democrats were in favor.
The division translates to the public sphere. Citizens on the right and left say the new rules either constitute a historic government overreach that will turn the Internet into an over-regulated, even censored, mess—or that the legislation will uphold the Internet as a “core of free expression and democratic principles,” respectively.
The net neutrality regulation is based on rules used to regulate public utilities like telephone service. The idea behind the rules all web traffic should have equal access to content. Broadband service providers, which give households access to the Internet, therefore aren’t permitted to block or slow down customers’ access to content or services. So-called “data hogs” like Netflix, which streams massive amounts of video content over the web, can no longer be forced to pay extra to get their content to customers at a fast speed.
While the central idea sounds like a positive, Republicans fear the government will eventually take advantage of other powers granted in the net neutrality legislation and that additional regulation will ultimately be bad for consumers and for the Internet.
Even those who support net neutrality are likely to be disappointed if they think the new rules will increase their Internet speeds, improve video streaming, or allow for more competition among Internet providers.
In fact, the laws won’t achieve any of these things, according to a special report by CNET. A 5Mbps connection last week is still the same speed this week. Wireless data caps remain in place, and providers can still slow down connections after customers use a set amount of data. The laws could, in fact, weaken competition due to the expense and hassle of navigating regulations. Netflix streams will still freeze and buffer when bandwidth is clogged.
The benefits of net neutrality, therefore, remain uncertain—as do, unfortunately, the negative impacts.