I like to keep the nasty business of politics off of this website, but every now and again it rears its ugly head in ways we cannot ignore. Net neutrality is one of those issues.
Politically, I am a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, and voted Libertarian in the last election. I did not vote for Trump, and I couldn’t vote for Hilary, either. As predicted, Trump is dismantling a lot of the Obama administration’s legacy, and network neutrality is a recent casualty.
As a general rule of thumb, I am opposed to government regulation when it can be avoided. The reason for the vast majority of government regulations is that the industry being regulated cannot be trusted to do the right thing without regulation. That is why we have regulations such as HIPAA/HITECH, which regulates the way patient records are managed by the medical profession. What we can’t trust, we regulate.
Network neutrality, as implemented in 2015 under the Obama presidency, required that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), companies such as Comcast, and Time Warner, ATT, Verizon, and others who provide Internet connections to businesses and consumers treat all traffic equally. That means all Internet traffic travels at the same speed regardless of the source, the destination, and the content. That means that ISPs such as Comcast, a company that provides cable TV service, and owns Universal Studios and the NBC television network, cannot block, slow down, or otherwise interfere with content from cable alternatives such as Roku or Hulu, or limit content from rivals such as ABC\ESPN\Disney, or movies and games from companies such as Sony. Now that net neutrality is repealed, they can charge you extra for access to those services, or block them altogether.
The FCC Chairman is Ajit Pai was appointed as a commissioner to the FCC by Barack Obama. He was elevated to Chairman by Donald Trump, largely because of his opposition to network neutrality. Prior to government service, Pai worked for Verizon, one of the companies that he is supposed to be regulating. There is a disturbing article from Fortune, titled “FCC Head Ajit Pai Jokes About Being Verizon’s ‘Puppet’ Ahead of Net Neutrality Rollback” that explains just how bad a choice he is for business and consumer Internet subscribers.
This is the future for us in the new unregulated environment, according to industry expert Robert Reich. The Internet companies can be expected to:
- “Drive up prices for internet service. Broadband providers could charge customers higher rates to access certain sites, or raise rates for internet companies to reach consumers at faster speeds. Either way, these price hikes would be passed along to you and me.
- Give corporate executives free reign to slow down and censor news or websites that don’t match their political agenda, or give preference to their own content – for any reason at all.
- Stifle innovation. Cable companies could severely hurt their competitors by blocking certain apps or online services. Small businesses who can’t afford to pay higher rates could be squeezed out altogether.”
How can we be certain that these companies will act this way? A simple look to the past, before net neutrality was enacted, will show that this behavior happened before. According to an article on the Smithsonian website, “before 2015, many internet businesses in the U.S. discriminated against or blocked customers from particular legal uses of the internet.”
- “In 2007 Comcast illegally blocked its customers from sharing files between themselves.
- In 2009, AT&T blocked access to Skype and FaceTime apps on its network.
- In 2011, MetroPCS blocked its customers from streaming Netflix and all other streaming video except YouTube (possibly due to a secretly negotiated deal).
- In 2012, Verizon disabled apps that let customers connect computers to their mobile data service.
- There were many other violations of the principle of net neutrality, too.
Customers and regulators tried to control these discriminatory practices over many years of public deliberation and multiple court cases. In 2015, under the Obama administration, the FCC finalized the Open Internet Order, a set of rules barring internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down traffic based on its content or whether the companies posting it had paid extra to the company delivering the data. It was far from perfect – but nonetheless a giant leap forward.”
The FCC is an Administrative Branch agency and reports only to President Trump. Since Congress has nothing to do with this decision, we are probably not going to get much out of them. Lets not forget this companies are giant campaign contributors. Maybe we can elect a different President in 2020. Until then, it will be back to the courts for any relief, and of course the Internet companies have deeper pockets than organizations such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Perhaps we can hope for some help from companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and even Microsoft. You can help, by becoming a member of the EFF and supporting their efforts through donations. This issue is not dead, and because we can expect draconian and expensive changes from our ISPs, perhaps public opinion will swing this issue in the other direction. At least we can hope so.
- Fortune – “FCC Head Ajit Pai Jokes About Being Verizon’s ‘Puppet’ Ahead of Net Neutrality Rollback”
- Wikipedia – Ajit Pai
- The Free Press – Net Neutrality Violations: A Brief History
- Smithsonian – How Other Countries Deal With Net Neutrality
- Sophos Naked Security – FCC repeals net neutrality
- Silicon Beat – Net neutrality: Facebook, Twitter and other tech firms signal fight isn’t over
- Electronic Frontier Foundation – Team Internet Is Far From Done: What’s Next For Net Neutrality and How You Can Help
- Tech Republic – Net Neutrality – What’s Next (Video) 8 min 45 sec