The Fall of Net Neutrality Could Destroy the Internet
There has been a lot of talk lately about Net Neutrality, but many people don’t even understand what it is, much less how it will affect our lives if it’s taken away. President Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has recently pushed forward a plan to remove the laws that have kept, up until now, the internet open access. If his suggested plans go through, the internet as we know it will change in a very big way.
What is Net Neutrality?
In layman’s terms, Net Neutrality is what keeps the internet available and easy to access for everyone. When you log on, you expect to be connected to whatever website you type in. Right now, we are able to view all content available, without our Internet Service Provider slowing down or even blocking certain sites that they disagree with. The internet and all of its contents are available for anyone to access no matter income, race or political view. Net Neutrality is the guiding principle that allows us to speak freely online and have equal access, equal speed and equal priority as everyone else.
Just like we don’t want our cell phone service provider to tell us who we are allowed to call or what we are allowed to say while on the phone, we expect the internet to allow us the right to access whichever website we choose. We can stream movies on Netflix even though our current ISP might offer their own movie streaming website. We have, as consumers, a choice as to which online business we want to spend our money in, which political news websites we get our news on and we have a voice on forums and social media. These things are protected right now by Title II of the Communications Act and its removal is what is currently under debate.
The History of Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality has been a point of contention between network users and providers since 1990. Even before the invention of the internet, there were laws in place protecting telegrams to be routed equally, despite the “importance” of its contents. Telegrams as well as the early version of the telephone network used back in 1870s, were considered “common carriers”, public utilities that were not allowed to give preferential treatment to anyone. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) made sure that pricing and access for these utilities were fair for everyone. However, in the late 80’s, the internet became more mainstream, and the big businesses started to question what their place was. Were they there to provide neutral information to the trustees? Or should they show only what the shareholders wanted to be shared? This became the first known argument for Net Neutrality, which is still echoed in the debates today.
In 2015, Title II was adopted and set in place, which basically classified all the large ISPs as common carriers – the same as the telegraph and phone network had been classified. The opposing viewpoint, and one that was being fought for by all the service providers, is that companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast should instead be classified as “information providers”; giving them way more power to decide what information flows through their hands to the users. It would give them the final say as to how quickly information is sent and what you would have final access to.
Between 2005 and 2012, there were over five attempts by various Internet Providers to restructure the internet by using variable pricing; meaning, the more you pay, the higher quality service you receive. Each attempt failed.
In April of 2014, the FCC looked at two different options, the first being the possibility to allow fast and slow broadband options, (which is no longer neutral or equal access), or reclassifying a broadband service as a telecommunication service (thus preserving net neutrality and protecting our rights as users). In November of 2014, President Obama opted for the latter of the two. Over the next year, after some fine tuning and lots of debate and push back, Title II was passed in June of 2015. Since then, the former attorney for Verison and now the current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Varadaraj Pai, proposed the end of Net Neutrality back in April of 2017. It was announced 7 months later, that the vote as to whether or not to appeal the policy has been set up for December 14, 2017.
A World Without Net Neutrality
There is a lot of speculation as to what the internet will look like without these strict laws in place. It doesn’t take too wild of an imagination to see what issues will come up based on past disputes. Back in 2007, the largest cable company in the US, Comcast, was caught severely delaying and in some cases, completely blocking BitTorrent uploads from its users. Both Comcast and BitTorrent ended up in court and for the first time, the FCC had to make an internet network decision. Although Comcast had performed an illegal action, they walked away with a slap on the wrist and was made to promise to quit blocking or slowing down the broadband.
In 2014, the FCC tried to reregulate the rules and allow for ISPs like Verizon or Comcast to offer a deal with certain streaming companies such as Netflix, Disney or Google, to pay a little more to ensure that they receive a faster connection speed for their website. If something like this happens, the providers will not only get paid by its users for access to the internet, but now also receive a “bribe” from the bigger websites to get faster speeds. This drastically affects websites owned by small business owners, minorities and any budding social media sites, as well as children who rely on the internet for education, such as homeschool or online college classes. (Even Facebook and Twitter had their meager beginnings and might not even be around had they had to pay extra in order to receive preference by the ISP.) There was severe backlash by users and websites alike, after the announcement of this option being a possibility.
These instances show us how the internet could easily become a very expensive application to use, (especially when wanting to stream movies) since the cost that the website will have to pay to the ISPs will be added into their cost to use the application. We also can guess that there will be extra fees or a complete inability to access websites that the Service Provider deems as competition. (Gone are the days of Netflix and chill, since AT&T provides Direct TV Now, instead…unless of course, you want to pay AT&T for each megabyte of video.)
What is Happening Now?
These predictions of the future remain simply that; guesses as to what is going to happen if the Title II law is removed. There is very little information as to what exactly is being proposed however, until it is released and voted on during the December 14th of 2017 meeting. The Republican party currently controls three of the five seats that are voting, so it is assumed by many that the proposal is going to pass, despite public protests.
If you are pro- Net Neutrality, this proposal goes directly against your fundamental rights. Websites can be slowed or blocked, preventing new ideas from being spread, small businesses from growing and makes the internet far more expensive to use.
There are people however, who are in the mindset that removing the law would be beneficial. Most of these organizations who are against Net Neutrality are Free Market Advocacies, cable and telecommunication companies, hardware companies, as well as internet service providers. They argue that with more competition, there will be better services and cheaper costs brought to the consumers.
Regardless of which side you stand on, if this rule passes in December, the internet will become managed very much like your cable company currently is. There will become actual censorship in the programs that you have access to and the providers will be able to control the price you pay, according to what you use the internet for. Some people think that censorship is a good thing, despite the added cost. If you currently like your cable company and its level of control over your TV experience, odds are you will be happy with the removal of Net Neutrality.
There is also a rumor that with the fall of Net Neutrality, so goes your internet privacy as well. ISPs will no longer have to have your permission to use, share or sell your internet usage records. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has stated that, “users of new communications services [will be] exposed to unprecedented levels of identity theft, financial fraud, and security breaches”. There is less information as to how exactly your privacy will change, but most people want to have a safe experience on the internet knowing that your financial information and personal website choices are not being displayed to third parties. Not only will the internet become censored by someone else, but your own actions on the internet can also be looked at without a subpoena.
All we can do is wait…
There are a number of sites that allow people to send an email to the FCC with their opinion of the law up for debate. No matter your opinion on whether Net Neutrality should stay or go, there is really very little that can actually be done (besides voicing your opinion) until the law is voted on in the next few weeks. Net Neutrality is something that has been argued about years ago, and odds are it will continue for years in the future. The suggested changes to the internet will have huge implications for our pocketbooks, small businesses, education websites and for lower income, minorities and rural areas as well. We will just have to wait and see what is passed in order to know how exactly it will affect us all.
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Net Neutrality II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) [Video]
Video uploaded by LastWeekTonight on May 7, 2017