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The FCC's net neutrality ruling: 5 things you need to know

Ian Paul | March 2, 2015
Advocates for open access to the Internet were popping champagne corks on Thursday after the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of reclassifying broadband Internet as a public utility. In addition to regulating fixed broadband lines that go into your home, the FCC vote also extended public utility rules to mobile broadband for the first time.

You can also find instances where major broadband providers refuse to increase broadband speeds or expand capacity. America has some of the slowest, yet priciest broadband in the world, according to an October report by the Open Technology Institute.

Last May, Tier 1 global network provider Level 3 said five major U.S. ISPs were deliberately failing to increase their interconnect capacity with Level 3, resulting in near constant web traffic congestion. Level 3 did not name the companies, but did say that all five had dominant or exclusive market share where the congestion was happening.

Level 3 has also accused Verizon of failing to improve interconnections at data centers where Level 3 and Verizon networks meet — an improvement that Level 3 said would be very inexpensive. The result? Deliberately constrained capacity that causes poor Internet speeds at home, and degraded Netflix performance more specifically in this case.

Arguably the most innovative ISP in the United States right now is Google Fiber, which delivers blazing fast 1Gbps speeds over the "last mile" to homes in select markets. Google Fiber has had the effect of increasing competitor speeds and service in areas where it operates — competition that arguably would not have happened otherwise.

Does Title II mean more competition in broadband?

Probably not. As part of the FCC vote on Thursday the commission explicitly ruled out forcing the ISPs to share their networks with competitors. That means market dominance by one ISP in local markets will not be broken as a result of the FCC ruling. Some are arguing that because of this the FCC ruling does little to change problems with U.S. broadband services, such as the aforementioned high prices and slow speeds.

Now that broadband is considered a public utility is the fight over?

Heck, no! When Verizon is so incensed about an FCC ruling it protests with a blog post written in Morse Code you know this issue is headed to the courts.

Congress is also getting involved. Prior to the FCC vote on Thursday, there was already a movement lobbying Republican lawmakers in Congress to undo a potential FCC ruling in favor of reclassification.

In the words of Han Solo, "it ain't over yet."


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