Net Neutrality 101: What It Means for You

Net Neutrality is an increasingly and tragically partisan issue but we feel like it’s part of our role at Cascade to help explain such a potentially monumental change that hits so close to home for our team, our clients, and our partners who all have an interest in a free and open internet. While this is admittedly a very nuanced issue requiring far more space than we’ll take up here, we offer this post as a succinct primer on the subject for the uninitiated.


What happened?

The FCC just voted to repeal Obama-era “Net Neutrality” Rules.


What was Obama era Net Neutrality?

The 2015 rule effectively defined Internet Service Providers as a “Title II” utility (according to the FCC’s Communications Act of 1934) to prevent them from discriminating against or favoring certain types of traffic. The Act was first put into effect to ensure that the telecommunications industry gave equal access to everyone, and allow for the same opportunity to call anyone (long distance rates apply).


Why was this rule created? Wasn’t it a solution in search of a problem?

Several notable court cases from 2005 to 2015 were triggered by ISPs small and large attempting to throttle or ban types of traffic they deemed unfavorable to their interests. Several cases involved ISPs blocking VOIP traffic like Vonage or Skype. Others involved peer to peer services while still others focused on everything from tethering technologies to fledgling online payment services.


Why is this good?

The arguments for this change generally revolve around the idea that, if freed up to shape traffic as they see fit, ISPs will have increased benefit to invest in their infrastructures and hopefully speed the internet up. The theory is if there is less regulation than more room is created for competition, ideally spurring innovation in the marketplace.


Why is this not good?

While the majority of the controversy revolves around the idea that users will suddenly be looking at increased ISP fees to allow access to certain types of content, a potentially larger issue looms around the ability of smaller startups to compete or innovate against incumbents. Netflix or Amazon, as examples, arguably have the resources to contend with any increased costs incurred by a newly unshackled Comcast and/or Verizon, who may want to charge for faster or prioritized connections. What about the next Netflix or Amazon being developed in some small shop right now? Will they be able to afford to drive in the same fast lane as their larger more established competition or will they be forced to abort?


It remains to be seen what ISPs will do now that regulations have loosened again. At this point in time, our recommendation is to research and stay informed as developments in the ISP marketplace take shape. And we’ll do the same.