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News Navigator: What is 'net neutrality?'

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai's announcement of a plan to abolish "net neutrality" regulations has sent shockwaves across the United States. The Mainichi Shimbun answers common questions readers may have about what exactly network neutrality is and how the policy decision may affect how users view online content.

    Question: What is network neutrality?

    Answer: Network neutrality is the principle that data online must be handled "indiscriminately," and that equal access to that data for all users must be protected. The core of the regulations specifies that an internet service provider cannot guarantee a fast connection to only certain content, applications or websites. In the same way, providers are prohibited from slowing down or not allowing users to access online content as well. Under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, the FCC introduced the strict regulations to protect net neutrality. The regulations were based on the ideal that a "free and open internet" allows for users to transmit and receive information from all over the world and supports practical safeguards of free speech and creative innovation.

    Q: What are the goals of the regulations?

    A: Supporters of the regulations say that if the principle of net neutrality did not exist, service providers would become "gate keepers," dividing the internet into a "fast lane" and a "slow lane" as they wished, and deciding what kind of apps, content and websites users are able to access. Because of this, there are concerns that things such as the influence of people's voices challenging the government or businesses would grow weak. Innovative new services from venture companies would also be snuffed out by already-established services under major companies -- all obstructing social innovation.

    Currently there is debate over whether the service known as "zero-rating" violates net neutrality. Zero-rating is the practice of not counting data usage on certain applications or services to allow for customers to use those selected services as much as they like without it affecting their bill. In the U.S., major provider T-Mobile's Binge On is well-known for this kind of service. In Japan, LINE Mobile introduced a plan offering customers unlimited data usage for the messaging app Line, Facebook, Twitter and Line's streaming music service.

    Q: Why is the FCC trying to get rid of the regulations?

    A: Major telecommunications companies in the U.S. requested the abolishment of the net neutrality regulations so that consumers could choose plans that best suited their interests and needs. FCC Chairman Pai claimed that the regulations protecting net neutrality are the government's "micromanaging" of businesses, and prevent investment in the establishment and expansion of broadband internet. Pai was appointed as head of the FCC by President Donald Trump this January, and it is the administration's policy to end net neutrality.

    Q: How do people feel about the possible repeal of the regulations?

    A: Services like zero-rating that have gathered attention look like they will go unaffected, so a portion of consumers will most likely welcome the change. However, if a disparity in users' accessibility to a wide range of online content emerges, there is a possibility that not only start-ups, but lower ranked companies in the industry will feel the effects of the changes. If this handicap becomes established in the competitive market, it's hard to deny that there is a danger that the number of favorable options available to users may decrease in the long run. (Answers by Yosuke Omura, General Digital News Center)

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