Net Neutrality

The internet is a massive global telecommunications network made up of many smaller networks and elements. In fact, the name ‘Internet’ is actually shorthand for ‘interconnected networks.’

 
When you pull out your mobile phone or open your laptop browser at home, you’re accessing a massive technological marvel – and a massive cooperative enterprise. As its name indicates, the Internet is a massive global network of interconnected networks – some run by governments, some by businesses, and some by non-profit organizations – and there are over a billion websites.
 
There are more than 3.8 billion Internet users today – half of all the people in the world! There are more than 285 million Internet users in the United States alone. Some are individuals, some are organizations, and some are businesses (including multinational online retailers and content providers).
 
All of those Internet users rely to some degree on what’s called the Internet Backbone – the major “trunk lines” (massive b
undles of cables) that move all of the audio, video, text, and other data users send to each other. Today, the Internet Backbone is made up primarily of fiber optic cables or “lines” that can transmit enormous amounts of data at very high speeds. 
 
The link between most Internet users and the Internet Backbone is provided by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). There are many ways to get Internet access over that “last mile” to the people who want it. In the United States, the largest ISPs are phone companies and cable companies; they typically use wire or fiber-optic cables to connect their network to individual homes. In addition, cell phone services use their networks of cell phone towers to provide internet access to their customers. In rural areas, many Internet users rely on ISPs that use satellites to connect them with the internet; the cost of installing wire or fiber optic lines in lightly populated areas is very expensive. 
 

There’s a “Bottleneck” in the Internet

Unfortunately, for most Americans, they don’t get much of a choice among Internet Service Providers; there may only one or two ISPs that serve their neighborhood (many consumers have two choices:  the phone company or the cable company). You basically sign away all of your rights if you choose to access the internet through a given ISP; people who want to use the Internet from home have to accept an ISP’s terms – or give up home access to the Internet. That’s a huge sacrifice for many of us as the Internet becomes a more and more necessary part of our lives. 
 
The number of Americans with access to high-speed (“broadband”) Internet Access is even smaller. Today, broadband is considered to have a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. The map below shows the number of broadband providers in each area; less than 40 percent of American households have access to more than one broadband Internet Service Provider! 
 
Number of ISPs in each Census Tract with Download/Upload Speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps
 
While many Americans have access to only one ISP, anyone with access to the Internet has access to many “Edge Providers” – government agencies, schools, non-profit organizations, and businesses such as online retailers, video streaming services, and companies offering audio or video services competing with those of the ISP in question.
 
If you’re in school, if you’re looking for a job, if you want to do your banking or pay your bills on-line, or if you want to watch a movie, using the Internet is essential today. 

Internet service has become another “utility” like electricity, cable TV, or water and sewer service – and, unfortunately, like many of those services it’s a monopoly for most Americans, especially when it comes to high-speed (“broadband”) Internet service. That’s why I pushed for a number of years for the FCC to regulate broadband as a utility, and why I was pleased when the FCC under President Obama issued rules to guarantee Net Neutrality. 
 

So What IS Net Neutrality?

Simply put, Net Neutrality means that Internet Service Providers have to treat all users, and all data carried over their networks, equally; ISPs can’t block some data, or transmit some data more slowly (“throttling”), or charge more for transmitting some data at higher speeds than others (“paid prioritization”). 
 

Why is Net Neutrality Needed?


ISPs have a long history of using their control over the link between internet users and the Internet Backbone to block – or extract money from – consumers and Edge Providers. That’s bad for consumers, bad for many businesses, and bad for the economy. It also slows down technological innovation and provides a serious obstacle to online start-ups, reducing our global competitiveness and slowing improvements in Americans’ standard of living.
 
The long history of anti-competitive, anti-consumer behavior by ISPs compelled the FCC to establish rules protecting Net Neutrality a number of years ago, and to ratchet up its rules in response to ISP violations of – and legal challenges to – Net Neutrality through 2015, when the Commission adopted the Open Internet Order that’s currently in effect. 
 

The Open Internet Order Effectively Protected Net Neutrality

Under the Open Internet Order, consumers had the right to access the content of their choice on the Internet, and content providers had the right to access consumers without having to pay tolls or have their service blocked or degraded by an ISP. The Open Internet Order prohibited Internet Service Providers from using their position between consumers and the Internet to advantage themselves, their own products and services, or third parties that want preferential treatment. 


What’s Happened?

In 2016, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Chairman Pai opposed adoption of the Open Internet Order and subsequentlyl expressed his desire to reverse it.  
 
On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted to adopt Chairman Pai's proposal (called the "Restoring Internet Freedom" order) to end the Open Internet Order.
 
I worked for many years to get the FCC to adopt rules that effectively protected Net Neutrality, and I was very pleased by the adoption of the Open Internet Order in 2015. I know that millions of Americans support Net Neutrality, and I was angry and deeply frustrated that the FCC chose to act on behalf of ISPs rather than the public interest.
 
I have continued to fight to preserve Net Neutrality. In February 2018, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and I introduced legislation to overturn the FCC's vote to kill Net Neutrality. Click here for more information on that bill. The Senate passed its version of the bill in May 2018, but the House Majority Leadership refused to bring my bill to the House Floor for a vote, and so I filed a "discharge petition"  to force a vote on the bill. 182 Representatives signed the discharge petition, but it fell short of the 218 signatures needed at the end of the 115th Congress in 2018.
 

What Now?

Control of the House of Representatives changed hands in January 2019, improving the prospects for passing a bill to restore Net Neutrality. I will be introducing legislation soon to make Net Neutrality a federal law. I am optimistic that we can restore Net Neutrality in the current Congress.
 
###