By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Net neutrality is dead. Long live net neutrality? The Obama-era regulation has been repealed by the Trump administration, arguing it wanted to "reverse the mistake" and stop the "heavy-handed" net neutrality.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified internet access as a common carrier telecommunications service - in other words, the information service became a public utility. In 2017, the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal the regulations - and yesterday, it was officially stopped.
Imagine, if you picked up the telephone to ring - let's say - your Nan. You haven't spoken to her for ages, and a good old chinwag is in order. However, the operator has decided that she isn't an important call to make, so they either block the number or delay the connection. They are happy for you to contact one of their preferred numbers, but an elderly relative is not a priority. There would be uproar.
When you pick up the receiver (if you are still living in 1999) or dial the number on a touchscreen, it is expected that whomever you call, the operators will "neither block the access to a number nor deliberately delay connection to a particular number", unless forced by the law.
It has been this way since the early 20th century. For the past three years, this has been the way the Internet has been allowed to run in the United States.
Since 2015, Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all websites and services the same - with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) being able to impose a ban on ISPs blocking or throttling data from legitimate websites and apps, and from being paid to prioritise traffic.
Net neutrality was originally born out of protest. When then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler released a plan that would have allowed big companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to discriminate online and create pay-to-play fast lanes, the agency was inundated with four million comments and activists turning up at their door, at their Washington D.C. offices, to protest.
Out of the demonstrations, a baby was born: net neutrality. The term can be confusing, the Daily Mirror notes, because it is government slang, "analogous to voodoo economics or Obamacare". They instead offer a better definition: "Liberty and equal online access for all."
Net neutrality has been compared to city water pipes by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), with the "pipes" running between your device and the Internet. As you would expect with your utilities, everyone gets the same service and no one can manipulate the contents inside.
The recent changes will see ISPs return to the classification of a Title I information service, and therefore broadband operators are able to treat some websites more equal than others. That's very Animal Farm.
The move would, in effect, largely leave the industry to police itself, according to the New York Times. Big telecom and cable companies have sent lobbyists to flood the FCC and the offices of Congress, pushing for an undoing of the net neutrality rules that they say hamper their businesses.
It is no surprise that the Trump administration has killed net neutrality. It has been threatening to do so since entering the office. But that doesn't stop people mourning for the free and fair internet. It was an ideal that meant everyone received the same service, something that the Republican-led FCC has quashed. Net neutrality may be dead, for now, but the protesters will be hoping for resurrection of the Internet ideal.