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Battle Lines Drawn As Net Neutrality Vote Draws Near

Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable have been fighting to keep the FCC from implementing laws that would stop their ability to charge fees from high volume data-using companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and Google.
In May 2014, Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, proposed a set of rules disallowing ISPs from slowing or blocking traffic from content creators and providers, such as Netflix, to their customers, but allowing the creation of “fast lanes” by ISPs, which companies can pay for to increase the speed of content delivery to customers.
This created an uproar from consumers, tech companies, and even President Obama who believe that the creation of fast lanes would terminate the open internet. Net neutrality would be destroyed by allowing ISPs to charge higher rates for higher speed internet, instead of distributing those services equally to everyone. This in turn would harm smaller companies without the ability to pay for these faster services because of the difference in content delivery speeds, many believe.
ISPs would also make more money by charging high volume data users a premium for faster internet, and be able to control how much these companies pay. Naturally, Verizon, Comcast, and other internet provider executives are against new legislation regulating their ability to charge whatever fees they see fit.
Not all ISP employees seem to agree, however. When asked whether or not the FCC should be able to regulate the fees that internet providers charge to users, one San Gabriel Valley Verizon store manager had the following to say, “I think the FCC should regulate how companies charge for internet use. If it’s not regulated, it could be abused.”
Many, including Wired.com, believe that complaints about fast lanes don’t make sense. “Fast lane is how the internet is built today,” says Craig Labovitz, who, as the CEO of DeepField Networks, a company that tracks how companies build internet infrastructure.
“The net neutrality debate has got many facets to it, and most of the points of the debate are artificial, distracting, and based on an incorrect mental model on how the internet works,” says Dave Taht, a developer of open-source networking software.
Huge companies including Netflix, Google, and Facebook already use what are essentially “fast lanes.” These companies have dedicated content delivery servers inside of their ISPs, also known as “peering connections,” that allow for faster delivery speeds along the “last mile” connections from ISPs to consumers.
The debate about fast lanes; however, is really about the backbone of the internet, the shared information super-highway made of long-haul fiber lines, connecting networks and core routers, not peering deals. On Feb. 5, Wheeler will produce a new set of proposed rules to be voted on Feb. 26. The proposed rules are expected to be a hybrid solution in which the “last mile” of internet connections would be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, but the internet backbone would remain unregulated. This would require the FCC to reclassify ISPs as “common carriers” under Title II.
In January of 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC could regulate internet service providers if they were reclassified, under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, as “common carriers,” companies that sell their services to all consumers, without discrimination, like utility companies.
In a preemptive strike against the upcoming proposal, Republican Senators John Thune and Fred Upton drafted their own proposal, that would block the creation of fast lanes and keep internet providers from being able to block or slow down online traffic, but it would not allow for the FCC to reclassify the internet as a public utility.
Both FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and President Obama have both indicated that they are in favor of reclassifying the internet as a public utility. Even if the Thune/Upton bill makes it past the Senate and House, Obama may not sign it. In regards to the Republican bill, Wheeler was seemingly dismissive, saying that the lawmakers, “can write whatever rules they want to write, and we respect that ability of theirs.”
“But I think that we’re at a fork in the road,” he added.
“It is important to deal with the long-term future of what the relationship of the American people will be with their broadband network

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