Since we last wrote about net neutrality, we’ve seen efforts to step up protections for an open internet in the US and India (some more promising than others). We’ll start with the most encouraging updates, and we’ll also revisit a great resource for developers who want to help policymakers understand the need to save net neutrality.
India recently adopted what might be the world’s strongest net neutrality norms. On July 11, India’s Telecom Commission approved recommendations the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) proposed last November to incorporate principles of non-discriminatory treatment into internet service provider license agreements. Those rules define discriminatory treatment to include “any form” of data discrimination, such as “blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content,” as well as zero rating. India’s rules do allow exceptions, including for “reasonable traffic management” and “specialised services” (such as emergency services), but only where “proportionate, transient and transparent in nature” and not when provided a replacement for internet access services.
Meanwhile, in the US, the call for net neutrality is regaining momentum in California, and possibly in Congress.
In California, Scott Wiener’s state senate bill SB 822 almost lost its promise as the US’s strongest net neutrality protections. After initial success in committee, SB 822 merged with another bill, and then was gutted. Fortunately, after much negotiation, Scott Wiener announced it will be reinstated with essentially all of its key elements. The revived bill is due out August 6, after legislative recess. Be sure to look out for that, along with opportunities to defend and protect it as it progresses through the legislative process.
At the federal level, on July 17 Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado became the first Republican sign the Congressional Review Act (CRA) discharge petition to undo the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules.
On the same day, Representative Coffman introduced his own net neutrality bill, the 21st Century Internet Act, which principally embraces the tenets of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order with the significant exception of creating a new title for broadband internet access services. (The 2015 Open Internet Order classifies broadband under Title II of the Federal Communications Act, corresponding to common carrier-level regulation. In repealing that order, the FCC re-classified broadband under Title I: “light-touch regulation.” Coffman’s bill chooses neither and creates a new title instead.) Proponents of the CRA bill hope that Coffman’s bill will not detract from support for the CRA bill, and that Coffman’s signing of the CRA discharge petition will spur other Republicans to put their weight behind the CRA too.
Developers have an important message to relay. Net neutrality has led to vast opportunity by giving developers the freedom to build and ship software without being potentially blocked, throttled, or tolled by internet service providers. This has meant a more level playing field for launching new products. Without net neutrality protections, we lose trust that the internet is a force for innovation and opportunity.
If you want more detail, check out these comments a group of 190 internet pioneers, technologists, and developers filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Although they’re a year old, the explanations are still relevant and can be a great resource in explaining the ramifications of the FCC’s decision for software to policymakers who may not understand it.
Not mincing words, they explain that the authors of the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules “lack a fundamental understanding” of what the internet’s technology promises to provide, how the internet actually works, which entities in the internet ecosystem provide which services, and what the similarities and differences are between the internet and other telecommunications systems the FCC regulates as telecommunications services.
They also describe risks to innovation that could follow from reclassification of broadband services and give concrete examples of consumer harm that could have been prevented when broadband services were less regulated (before net neutrality) and consumer benefit realized when they were more regulated (during net neutrality).
Feeling inspired? We hope you’ll join us in continuing to advocate for an open internet.