KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
If you've been on Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix or Etsy today, you might have seen something about net neutrality. The companies that host these sites have teamed up for an online protest. Hundreds of others are participating. And they're unhappy about a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to loosen regulations for Internet service providers. NPR tech reporter Alina Selyukh is here to tell us all about it. Hey there.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hi.
MCEVERS: So what FCC rules would be going away?
SELYUKH: So as you mentioned, these are the rules that enforce this idea of net neutrality. It's this principle that essentially says Internet providers should not be able to act as gatekeepers of what you find on the Internet. That principle has been around for a decade. But in 2015, then-Democrat-majority FCC passed new regulations to enforce net neutrality, setting new kind of oversight for Internet service providers. Now under President Trump, Republicans are in charge of the agency, and they are deregulating.
MCEVERS: Why are Internet companies and advocacy groups so upset?
SELYUKH: Well, so it has to do with the specifics of the rules. Two of the basic rules of net neutrality say that Internet providers should not be able to block or slow down any websites or apps. And actually on this, the telecom and cable companies will often say, we have no plans to do that; our customers would be up in arms. But now this new FCC proposal puts into question even those basic elements. It asks, should there even be a ban on blocking or throttling?
And there's this third kind of element which has this wonky name of paid prioritization. And that refers to the kind of deal where, say, Netflix would be able to pay Verizon to get a sort of priority delivery, special treatment. Internet providers have previously argued that people might actually benefit from some prioritization. But advocacy groups and Internet companies say opening that door puts smaller competitors and startups in danger.
MCEVERS: OK, so when we hear about net neutrality and the debate, is this it? Is this the crux of it?
SELYUKH: A simple answer is yes. But of course we're in Washington. Nothing here is ever simple. So I'm going to take you a bit further into this policy rabbit hole.
SELYUKH: When the Obama-era FCC set the new rules in 2015, the agency went for a broad overhaul of how it treats Internet providers in general. They put them in a similar category as the traditional telephone companies so they could be really tightly overseen. And that's what upset the broadband providers as well as free market groups that argue that this new regulatory regime in general puts a bureaucratic straitjacket on the industry. And those are actually the words of the current Republican FCC chairman, Ajit Pai.
MCEVERS: OK, so back to today's protest. What happened, and you know, could it change the chairman's view on this?
SELYUKH: Well, there are a lot of participants. You named a few of them. They have vast Internet reach. Amazon had a little ad. Reddit displayed a digital message. Netflix and Etsy put up banners. Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post. Lots and lots of organizations are mobilizing. They're asking people to contact the FCC and Congress in support of the current rules. And some of the participants actually told me that Congress is the bigger target today given that Chairman Pai of the FCC seems to have largely made up his mind to reel back the regulations.
The FCC is accepting public comment for a few more weeks. But the FCC Republicans have suggested that they prefer comments that offer a cost-benefit analysis or are otherwise evidence-based. The sheer number only goes so far, they say. And as Commissioner Mike O'Rielly put it, rulemaking is not decided like a "Dancing With The Stars" contest.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh. Thank you very much.
SELYUKH: Thank you.
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