Net Neutrality, At Least For Now

Three of five FCC commissioners voted in favor of ''net neutrality'' yesterday.
Three of five FCC commissioners voted in favor of ''net neutrality'' yesterday.
Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press

Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission decided to reclassify regulation of the Internet under the Telecommunications Act. Advocates have been discussing “net neutrality” for months. But what does it all really mean?

Professor Ellen Zegura, from the Georgia Tech School of Computer Science, researches the development of computer networks. She came over to the “A Closer Look” studio to explain this important new ruling.Rose Scott and Denis O'Hayer speak with Professor Ellen Zegura from the Georgia Tech School of Computer Science.

All the information that gets sent over the Internet is sent in “bits – zeroes and ones,” explained Zegura. Network neutrality means that your Internet service provider has to treat all this information the same.  “It’s application-independent; it doesn’t pay attention [to the content.]”

Zegura offered a metaphor for understanding net neutrality as a utility: water. She pointed out that in most cases, water is not billed differently depending on its use; whether one is washing dishes or filling a swimming pool, for example. This is how the FCC will regulate Internet services going forward.

Some Internet providers argue that if they were allowed to charge different rates for different services, they could improve service performance dramatically. Zegura said this argument is debatable, because the methods and speed of service delivery are still under development.

“This does restrict a set of opportunities that providers might have had, as a way of making a business case … or a sales pitch,” Zegura said.  

Everyday consumers’ experiences are not likely to change, and other important aspects like “issues of security and privacy … are really not impacted by this decision.”

However, Zegura pointed out that the three to two FCC board vote indicates the decision could certainly be altered in the future, perhaps under a different presidential administration.

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