What is the FCC? Who or what is the FCC Chairman, and what does net neutrality even mean? In today’s world of political division and 24-hour news cycles, it is easy to feel lost in a world of buzzwords and complicated issues. If you are confused about the FCC and net neutrality- especially if you don’t have a clue about what either of those terms even mean- look no further! We have created an opportunity for you to understand not only what these terms mean, but what you can do with your new knowledge.

Net neutrality is such a big issue today because of the overwhelming presence of the Internet in our lives. Whether you are constantly connected to the Internet via your phone and laptop or just use a desktop computer to check your email once a week, the Internet is an unavoidable part of our lives. It can be a wonderful way to connect with people, learn new information, and entertain yourself and your loved ones, but as the Internet surges in popularity, so do legal issues surrounding it. It is more important than ever to understand the principles of net neutrality and the role of the FCC and its chairman.

Although some of this introductory information may seem basic or straightforward, it is necessary to know before getting into the big topics of the FCC Chairman and net neutrality!


Need-To-Know Acronyms

Internet, net neutrality and the FCC chairman explanations are full of acronyms that can make it even more difficult to understand the basic principles. The following list breaks down some of the most common acronyms to help:

  • ISP: Internet Service Provider, a company that provides Internet service
  • IXP: Internet Exchange Points, physical locations where data is stored and exchanged
  • FCC: Federal Communications Commission, an independent federal group that regulates all modes of communication, like radio and the Internet, and is monitored by Congress

How Does The Internet Work?

How Does the Internet Work?

The Internet is both more and less than what it seems! Essentially, the Internet is a collection of networks. Different networks provide Internet for different purposes. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) provide the networks, and there are three tiers of Internet providers.

There are only 12 Tier 1 ISPs in the world, and they are connected to each other and can connect to every network everywhere. Tier 2 ISPs connect Tier 1s to Tier 3s, giving you access to the Internet. Tier 3 ISPs are the companies that most people are familiar with because you pay them directly for your Internet service! Companies like AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon are all Tier 3 ISPs.

In order to get information from the Internet, content will first come from the company through ISPs and an IXP (a physical data location) to get to your Internet-connected computer.

How Do Companies Use The Internet?

When a company (like Google, for example) wants to get its content available on the Internet, they pay to have an ISP allow its content to be shared with the world. The content will go through an IXP, which is connected to other ISPs, which will then get the content straight to the user.

However, large companies are currently able to avoid going through an ISP to get their content onto the Internet. Companies like Google, Netflix and Facebook all connect directly to IXPs. Instead of hiring a Tier 1 ISP to offer their content, which then runs through an IXP and Tier 2 and Tier 3 ISPs, they can skip the first step. Because these companies do not run through Tier 1 ISPs, net neutrality laws would not affect Google (although Google claims to be a strong supporter of net neutrality).


What Is The FCC?

FCC logo

The FCC is an independent commission that controls and regulates all methods of communication in the United States. This includes radio, television, the Internet and satellite. Basically, if something can be a method of communication, it is monitored and regulated by the FCC and the FCC chairman.

Because the Internet is such a big part of our lives today and a major method of communication, the FCC has become more and more focused on the Internet over time. FCC regulations are incredibly important not only to companies that provide Internet content, but to users, as well.

Who Is In The FCC?

The five people in the FCC are appointed by the president and remain on the commission for five-year terms. While the president chooses one commissioner to serve as FCC chairman, the commission itself must be party balanced.

FCC committee members cannot have any financial connection to communications, and they also head a number of smaller committees and agencies under the communications umbrella.


Who Is The FCC Chairman?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

Currently, the FCC Chairman is Ajit Pai. He was appointed in 2012 by former President Obama and was renominated as the FCC Chairman in January 2017. He is in favor of free markets over regulation, and he has done a great deal of work to increase broadband Internet access to all Americans across the country.

What Is Net Neutrality?

The debate over net neutrality focuses on how ISPs treat the companies that have hired them to put their content on the Internet. Net neutrality is all about equality. People on the pro net neutrality side claim that every company should have equal opportunities to present information on the Internet and that companies shouldn’t be able to discriminate against and block users from viewing and using content. There are essentially two elements of this debate: prices and service.

Prices

Proponents of net neutrality claim that all companies, regardless of size and popularity, should have the same level of access to Internet services. This means that ISPs cannot give a big company faster speeds or better service for more money because small or startup companies may not be able to afford the cost of the better service. Net neutrality pricing would ensure that all companies, regardless of age, type or popularity, would have equal access to the Internet. Essentially, it means that the end user would have access to every type of Internet content, even to content that is not popular or owned by a high-end company.

Service

Service-based net neutrality focuses on keeping all companies on an equal playing field in regards to providing Internet service. Net neutrality proponents emphasize that ISPs should not be able to discriminate Internet services based on the type of web traffic moving through. For example, with net neutrality in place, an ISP would have to treat a video download the same as a file download, even though a video download will require a faster Internet connection than the file download.


Why Does Net Neutrality Matter?

Why Does Net Neutrality Matter?

Net neutrality, as well as the regulations enforced on Internet companies by the FCC and the FCC chairman, has the potential to affect our day-to-day lives. Just like content creators and companies have to change their policies based on regulations, the way we access the Internet and what we are able to access will change if further regulations are placed on the Internet or taken away.

Net neutrality (as controlled by the FCC and the FCC chairman) can also control the amount of money that you pay for internet services. If/when ISPs are allowed to charge providers and consumers differently for the content they present and use, you may have to choose your Internet bundle based on what you want to access. For example, you might be charged one price for just Google usage and another price for just Facebook.


FCC Net Neutrality Timeline

FCC Net Neutrality Timeline

Recent years have seen major changes in net neutrality regulations as created by the FCC and FCC chairman. In December 2010, the FCC adopted the first-ever net neutrality Internet regulations. This “Open Internet Order” encouraged ISP transparency and internet user access.

The federal court denied the FCC’s net neutrality plan in June 2014 and started to come up with new net neutrality regulations. Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler lead the FCC in February 2015 in adopting net neutrality regulations. These regulations refer to Internet access as a public utility.

In June 2016, the FCC’s net neutrality regulations stayed in place despite a challenge from the U.S. Appeals Court. President Donald Trump and newly appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai were outspoken about their stance against net neutrality in January 2017.

FCC Chairman Pai proposed a repeal of the Obama era net neutrality regulations in April 2017. In December 2017, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality regulations.

Conclusion

Whether you use the Internet all day, every day or just a handful of times a week, net neutrality, the FCC, and the decisions of the FCC chairman affect your life. Whether you support net neutrality or agree with FCC Chairman Pai and his recent repeal of net neutrality rules, the decisions of the FCC influence the way you are able to access the Internet and the information that is available online. Our world is constantly getting more connected, and the Internet is a major way that people of all ages and backgrounds can learn, communicate and grow.

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