At its meeting on Thursday, February 26, the Federal Communications Commission approved the policy known as net neutrality by a 3-2 vote. FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, explained that the policy will ensure “that no one – whether government or corporate – should control free open access to the Internet.” The Open Internet Order is central to how the Internet works. It requires service providers to be a neutral gateway instead of handling different types of internet traffic in different ways – and at different costs. The decision has several important implications for SIP customers.
Net Neutrality in Plain English
Net neutrality has been called both the liberation of the internet from the grasp of mega carriers like Verizon and Comcast, and a government takeover of the internet. It is neither. Under the new approach the FCC will treat internet service providers as carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which regulates services as public utilities. In other words, your ISP will be treated more like your land line telephone carrier. Just as AT&T and other carriers must treat every phone call to your house in the same way, Comcast and other ISPs will have to treat every website or application provider in the same way. They will not be able to prioritize one type of traffic over another, nor will they be able to charge content providers more for so called, “fast lanes,” with higher speed access.
Why the Ruling Matters
- The move of internet service to Title II means that the government has acknowledged that internet connectivity is no longer just a “nice to have,” but is rather an essential public utility.
- Internet providers will treat everyone’s data neutrally, equally – whether it’s an email from your brother-in-law, a VoIP phone call from your boss, streaming video from Netflix or a payment reminder from American Express.
- ISPs are not allowed to choose whose data gets sent more quickly, which site gets blocked, and who has to pay extra.
Although content discrimination has not been widespread to date, the new regulatory structure will help ensure that startups and smaller providers of internet content, applications and voice services, such as SIP, will be able to compete with larger, established organizations that could more easily afford pay-to-play access.
What It Doesn’t Mean
The government has not taken control of the internet. Your service to your home and business will continue to be provided largely through cable and telecommunications ISPs. Those carriers are simply prohibited from certain business practices that the FCC (and millions of people who signed net neutrality petitions) feared could harm competition. The ruling also will not:
- Make your broadband faster.
- Eliminate data usage caps.
- Stop your wireless carrier from throttling your service when you’ve reached your data cap. (As long as the carrier throttles all content, slowing down your service based on your cap is not discriminatory.)
The bottom line is that most home and business customers will see nothing change as a result of the new rules. That’s the idea. Net neutrality preserves the open internet and prevents pay-to-play practices that many feared could increase costs and reduce performance and reliability for business and consumers. Businesses who utilize SIP trunking will continue to have their choice of SIP provider and ISP and the assurance that their voice traffic will flow freely.