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FCC Plans Vote to Reinstate Net Neutrality Rules in the U.S.

Net neutrality rules were rolled back in 2017 by FCC Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel’s predecessor Ajit Pai. Pai had used the lack of competition in broadband as a reason for undoing Net Neutrality regulations.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to reinstate net neutrality in the country and take regulatory control over broadband internet that had been rolled back in 2017, according to a report by Reuters. “Net neutrality refers to the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites,” FCC chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel told Reuters. Rosenworcel had proposed the revival of net neutrality rules in September last year. Then, in October, the FCC began proceedings on restoring open internet protections for consumers and businesses. It also sought comments on how to ensure broadband services had effective oversight.

Net neutrality rules were rolled back in 2017 by Rosenworcel’s predecessor Ajit Pai. Pai had used the lack of competition in broadband as a reason for undoing Net Neutrality regulations, essentially equating the removal of net neutrality as a means of reducing government restrictions.

Why it matters:

Net neutrality ensures that all internet users are treated equally. If internet service providers (ISPs) are allowed to charge platforms for faster speeds, it creates barriers to entry wherein only those who have the resources to pay to get access to their websites sped up have the opportunity to get their content noticed by the desired audience.

What were the US’s net neutrality rules?

Net neutrality principles ensure that all online service providers are treated equally. The net neutrality rules that the US had pre-2017 had three key points:

  • No blocking: Internet service providers (ISPs) should not block users’ access to certain platforms/websites.
  • No throttling: ISPs cannot single out internet traffic based on where its coming from or who it’s going to.
  • No paid prioritization: ISPs cannot accept money to speed up access to a certain platform or service.

Net neutrality in the Indian context:

Notably, in July last year, India conducted a consultation on over-the-top (OTT) communication services where telecom companies had argued in favor of introducing network usage fees (or as they put it, ‘fair share’). A network usage fee is a charge that telcos want to charge online platforms for the use of a telco’s infrastructure. Telcos argued that a threshold should be set up and that only platforms that meet that threshold would be required to pay for the usage of network infrastructure. This, they said, would prevent startups from being burdened with the fee. However, given that some platforms will pay, and others wouldn’t, they would invariably be treated differently, which would be violative of net neutrality.

While India’s Communications Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw has confirmed that net neutrality is a resolved issue, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is yet to come out with any recommendations based on its consultation. Decisions in favor of net neutrality in the US could potentially strengthen the case for upholding net neutrality principles in India as well.

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