Part I: Net Neutrality
The new Net Neutrality Bill is crazy. The FCC claims to be “Restoring Internet Freedom” by revoking net neutrality. Net Neutrality is what forces companies to provide equal, unbiased access to all sites they wish to visit is somehow restricting internet users. The fact that the FCC knows that they are hurting the consumer, but doesn’t care just says a lot about our current administration.
(Image of Netflix loading pixel by pixel as if internet providers were slowing the load times for the site)
As easy question to ask, is how is this being allowed to happen? Well to put it simply, money is allowing it to happen and lots of it. Major service providers such AT&T and Comcast want to impose to ways of charging for the internet. The reason the FCC is ok with this is because they are claiming that currently the government is operating in a utility-style approach. The FCC chair, Ajit V. Pai, claims that through the current system the government has too much control over the marketplace. By repealing the net neutrality bill Ajit would open the marketplace up for companies to create new policies and standards. Undoubtedly companies will transform the internet into a pay to play system. If you want high-speed internet you better be ready to pay more than you have now. If you want access to Netflix or other streaming sites, well you better hope your provider wants you to have access. The horrific part to this whole thing is that not once has the FCC thought about the consumer, especially those in the lower and middle class.
The closest article that net neutrality relates to is the article on trolls. The FCC is currently acting like the biggest troll in internet history. They claim to be restoring internet freedom while they are actually enforcing greater restrictions upon it. They are playing everyone in one of the biggest games the internet has known. It is scary, but there isn’t much we can do. People’s complaints are ignored and the FCC continues to push forward despite the overwhelming opposition. It is almost as if they are enjoying all the anger directed towards them. Maybe the FCC is just really the biggest troll in internet history.
If all this doesn’t sound bad enough lets look at who makes up the FCC board. The chairman is Ajit V. Pai, he worked at Verizon Communications Inc. for many years. He handled competition matters, regulatory issues and counseling on broadband issues. Next is Tom Wheeler, he ran several telecommunication companies throughout his career. He is deeply involved in this topic and would seem to benefit greatly by the repeal of internet neutrality. Jessica Rosenworcel is undoubtedly a very smart woman, yet she has already stated she will repeal net neutrality. Well shit. That is 3 of 5 voters already decided. The next is Michael O’Rielly, here is a direct quote from him about net neutrality,
“It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right… People do a disservice by overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives. People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives.” (Michael O’Rielly, June 25, 2015, Slate)
He blatantly denies that internet should be a human right and favors the privatization strategy. Last in Mignon Clyburn, it is unknown which way she is leaning. She has no previous ties with the telecommunication industry, so that is at least a good start. Overall the vote doesn’t look good and the people who were put in charge of voting clearly have no desire for what is best for the American people, but rather for what will make them and the major corporations the most much.
Part II: Cultural Representation
The Cultural Representation of all this is simply everywhere. Go on reddit and you will see many of the popular subreddits have the stop net neutrality link as its top post.
You will see the same if you go to YouTube. Net neutrality is bad for creators on the internet. Their service is now going to be owned and controlled by these large corporations such as Comcast and AT&T. The large companies could potentially slow down sites and or channels they simply didn’t think embodied what they value. They also have the power to simply shut down sites entirely by making them extremely hard to access.
One of the biggest concerns people have with net neutrality is the establishment of “fast lanes.” As said above the Internet providers will have total control over what content is viewable seeing as they are no longer bound by law to give equal access to everyone. Prior to the FCC’s most recent announcement in November, when they declared December 15th as the vote date, Comcast had said they wouldn’t provide any fast lanes regardless of the decision. This was a PR move and mostly just a lie. When the FCC announced they were actually voting to repeal Net Neutrality Comcast suddenly took a new stance. Here is their original pledge
……And the new pledge:
Pretty weak pledge. Sure, they claim they won’t slow lawful content, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make it slow if there are a lot of users on at the same time. Unless of course you’ve paid for the premium access. In that case you’ll be able to experience better service than those who cannot afford such. Comcast even removed their pledge to make the internet more affordable to low income families. They know that they are going to be charging more than before anyway so there is no need to keep that part of the pledge. It is just another example of how those at the top do not care at all for the needs of those below them. Low income families aren’t the only ones at risk though, big companies, such as Netflix, also are worried for their future on the internet.
Here is why Netflix is fighting for net neutrality. Netflix doesn’t belong to a major internet provider, such as Comcast, which means it is very vulnerable to whatever decision the FCC makes. Here is one reason Netflix is worried, companies can create their own online streaming services that run must smoother on their network, making Netflix obsolete. They could slow the load times of Netflix down to a crawl, making it impossible to watch. It is likely that Comcast will do this seeing as they already provide streaming service through their Xfinity service. Therefor your Netflix could soon look like this:
It isn’t out of question to think companies will do this. You watching Netflix doesn’t earn them as much money as you watching Xfinity, so why should they encourage you to do so. Instead the FCC is incentivizing them to disenfranchise consumers and independent/small companies. Instead of dealing an equal hand they are tilting the entire system in favor of the corporations that already dominate the internet and entertainment.
Let’s say they don’t make fast lanes around Netflix, they can still make it part of a separate package than services they offer. For example, look at Portugal’s system:
This is just one way in which the internet may be one with the repeal of Net Neutrality. I for one use all of these services just about every day. Therefore, I would be paying $25 to access all the apps and services I use now for free. Add on to this premium packages and fast lanes and you can see how this will get expensive quick.
Part III: History
It is important to understand where all of this is coming from, in fact, Net Neutrality has been a spot of contention before. One reason the repeal of Net Neutrality is so important is because we have lived in an internet without Neutrality and it wasn’t very good for the consumer. Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) were able to throttle internet speeds and block sites they didn’t agree with or simply didn’t want to be accessible for any reason at all. It wasn’t just that they were simply allowed to do it, they did do it. They blocked bittorent sites, and AT&T even blocked Facetime for a period of time. There may have been greater competition between ISP’s, but there was also no protection for consumers. Before I delve back into the morality of this debate, it is best that I run through the plot of this precarious debate of internet history.
The “History” of Net Neutrality is a short, but complex story. The first time the topic came into discussion was 1990’s. By this point the internet had grown into a utility that impacted most American’s everyday lives. Politicians, such as Al Gore began discussing how the government could best protect the internet so it could continue to serve its users in an equal and productive way. Fast forward 10 years and the term Net Neutrality is coined by Columbia Law professor Tim Wu. 5 years after its original coining the topic begins to heat up as questions of ISP morality and power join the conversation. The Supreme Court Brand X decision was made in 2005, it declared that Brand X and other internet providers were “information services” not telecommunication services. What that means is basically that ISP’s were not able operate as freely as they would like and were still very much controlled by the FCC’s decisions and laws. LA Times David Lazarus sums up the issue well in his article, Times magazine uses his definition saying:
This is a good thing for the consumer because it means they are protected by the government and not at the will of whatever ISP they belong to. From this decision the debate for Net Neutrality really takes off. The FCC meets its first challenge in 2007 when Comcast blocks Bittorent sites. In 2008 the FCC steps in and orders Comcast to stop its blocking of sites, and the two begin to battle it out in DC Circuit Court. From 2008-2010 the two are locked in the legal debate until April 6, 2010 when the DC courts find in favor of Comcast. The FCC begins to looking into other ways to protect internet freedom, essentially how they can go around the DC courts decision. In 2010 the FCC issues the Open Internet Order. The order calls for a new approach towards protecting internet freedoms. It enforces regulations upon the major internet providers that level the playing field in favor of the consumer (yay!). Basically the order says that no Internet Service Provider can block or throttle internet or in any way control your internet experience.
Verizon questions the Open Internet Order and once again the FCC is taken to DC Circuit Court. The FCC and Verizon engage in a long legal battle over the Open Internet Order for the next 6 years. On June 14th, 2016 the DC Courts find in favor of the FCC and reaffirms the Open Internet Order. A victory for the internet as the playing field seems to have been leveled. After all this, here we are almost 2 years later facing the death of this order.
For a more in depth look into the timeline of Net neutrality I highly recommend visiting the website WhatisNetNeutrality.org. It has a complete timeline of all Net neutrality related events spanning from 2000-2017.
To come full circle, this issue is extremely important not only to the internet today, but to the power these major companies will have in the future. If our government refuses to stand up and stop the corrupt and cruel practices of these ISP’s then we are surrendering our rights as free Americans. We shouldn’t be told what to do and not to do by a corporation. The Internet should remain the free space that it currently is. This being said, the internet is not a perfect place and their ae regulations that can be put into place to fix some of its problems.
Currently major companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, have a complete monopoly over the ISP industry. That being said, this monopoly is a very small price to pay for internet freedom. Though we are reliant on them for a lot of services, such as telecommunications and the internet we still have some freedom from them in terms of what we do with those services. By removing net neutrality these corporations won’t be losing to competitors. Instead they will simply be gaining control over not only how we get internet, but how we use it. This political cartoon sums up the Net neutrality debate, in this regard, very well: