Welcome to the new, unequal, cut-throat age of internet service deregulation.
Last week Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced the agency was moving forward with plans to roll back federal net neutrality regulations that prevent Internet Service Providers from limiting what websites you can visit, or how fast you get there.
Without net neutrality, Internet Service Providers can block websites that are completely legal, or slow down the connection to the websites so much that audiences don’t visit the websites at all.
It’s a win for big business, but an absolute disaster for small businesses who compete against larger companies without the connections to keep traffic to their websites open, and for the citizens who want to access those websites and exercise their fundamental right to free speech.
This battle for net neutrality began with a 2015 law to hold Internet Service Providers (ISPs) accountable for keeping the internet fair for all companies and websites by ensuring equal usage opportunities.
The plan to repeal net neutrality laws will be put to a vote on Dec. 14.
There’s documented proof that if given the latitude, ISPs will savagely target other providers for financial benefit. Verizon blocked Google Wallet in 2011 from its users’ access because the ISP favored other money services instead. Phone carriers such as AT&T and Verizon also have blocked tethering apps that turn a cell phone into an internet hotspot for a laptop computer to tap into without additional charges. ISPs dislike those tethering apps because it means less profit for them through customers.
File-sharing apps such as BitTorrent or video chat sites such as FaceTime or Google Hangouts have also been blocked or targeted by some large ISPs that see those sites as financial threats.
Pai released a statement last week that the federal government intends to cease its micromanaging of the internet by instead requiring internet service providers to be transparent about their practices. Pai said this would help customers decide which provider is right for them.
Despite a law demanding honest reports about companies’ activities, ISPs could still hide some of their actions and feign ignorance. If an ISP decides to slow down the network speed of a smaller provider, they could easily blame it on the other provider for being a poor service that is just running slow, and tout your own company’s quick speeds to lure their customers to your business.
It’s a shady practice that could be used without penalty, if handled successfully.
With no guarantee of net neutrality, there’s the potential that we could be looking at an internet system similar to what Portugal has. Clients pay one price for messaging, another for social media and a third for video services like Netflix and YouTube, instead of one base rate for internet services. If you want to send an email or Google Drive, open your wallet again.
Yet if big name companies choose to slow down other internet providers, and then add additional charges in order for users to access their own, faster networks, then people will certainly feel the impact. We’ll all be paying more just to have the same reliable, equal access that we currently still have. But for only a limited number of days now before the FCC attempts to dismantle net neutrality.
FCC officials said they expect the issue to go to the federal courts, just as the issue inspired ISPs to file lawsuits when the net neutrality law was implemented in 2015. It’s an inevitable part of the process.
If citizens wish to continue to have access to free and equal open internet that doesn’t continue to increase in price based on ISP companies’ revenue goals, then they have to use their voice, but even that still might not be enough.
The FCC opened a survey for public comment in May, to which 21 million responses were garnered. Various data analysts concluded that at least 1 million but as many as four million of those responses were either false or had been submitted by real people who used boilerplate text to submit a generic reply either in favor of or opposition to the repeal of net neutrality laws. An estimated 1 million responses were submitted by fake email addresses.
Despite a majority of the legitimate respondents advocating for continued federal internet regulations – an estimated nearly 99 percent of them expressed support, according to data scientist Jeff Kao – the FCC moved forward to repeal net neutrality laws anyway.
If we wish to truly protect ourselves from potential price hikes just to use Netflix, social media or other services, then we need to take action. Call your congressional representative. Don’t support companies that don’t support your right to a free, unregulated internet. Contact the FCC to demand more data and information before the law is repealed.
Unless you’re fine with the buffering circle of death.