Last week in a closed door session the FCC voted, along party lines 3:2, to repeal the government’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules. Led by republican chairman Ajit Pai, the agency also voted to lessen its own authority over key aspects of the telecommunications industry. A move many see was made to make sure future FCC officials can’t overturn the republican-led ruling.
But what exactly is Net Neutrality? Why should we be concerned?
Net Neutrality is an Obama era policy passed in 2015 that ensures major internet service providers (ISP) such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, can not speed up, slow down, or block certain content or websites you want to use. In short it’s the way the internet has always worked. A free sharing of information available for anyone that can connect to a network. You pay your ISP, you have access. Contrary to some things you may have heard, Net Neutrality was a concern as far back as the early 1990’s. It wasn’t until 2015 that a million activists pressured the FCC to enact these rules to have some oversight over the huge multimillion dollar industry the internet has become.
An easy comparison could be looking back on the rise of cable companies in the United States. From the invention of television and its early days in American homes, programing was free. If you had a television set, an antenna, and a decent signal, you could watch all the programing you wanted. Even though it had been around since the late 1940’s, it wasn’t until the 1960’s and 70’s that cable TV rose to prominence. Soon you had cable companies controlling the television market. You could no longer get programing for free, and a few large companies held a monopoly on the cable industry. Today when you sign up for cable you choose your plans based on the channels you want. You want HBO, Starz, The NFL Network, whichever extra channels you want you pay more for. That’s basically the way the internet will work with the end of Net Neutrality.
The fear is this will price out lower income individuals from using the internet. For example, you have AT&T as your ISP, on your phone and for your home broadband. In the future you might have to pay for different tiers of internet service. Add on a gaming bundle, a social media bundle, pay monthly for apps, and the price of your internet bill goes up substantially.
Look at who’s using the internet. Today roughly nine out of ten American adults use the internet*. (Pew Research Center data) Students, the medical field, schools, municipalities, law enforcement, every major function of American life is tied to the internet in some way. Adults making less than $30,000 a year account for 79% of internet users daily. The demographic to be hit the hardest will be those who can least afford it. A pay for service internet will line the pockets of the industry executives and price out the average citizen.
Consumers will likely not see the effects immediately. Companies like AT&T and Comcast know it’s in their best interest to hold off , to not annoy customers and draw the attention of lawmakers. Overtime consumers will feel the effects. Companies could charge sites like Netflix and Facebook more to use their broadband connection, and give preferential treatment to sites they own. Creating faster lanes of service for their own sites, and slowing down others.
The ultimate fate has still not been decided, you’re not going to turn your computer on tomorrow and go back to 90’s era connection speeds when you try to load Netflix. Multiple states are gearing up to file lawsuits. (Massachusetts, Washington State, and New York State are just a few examples) Congress also has the power to overrule the FCC’s vote. You can contact your local lawmakers and tell them of your disapproval. (Just beware, reports of false email address and and multiple names being misused are now coming out. Which will discredit the movement in the eyes of lawmakers.)
If you are still not convinced Net Neutrality is something you need to be concerned about, look at it this way. The more control a select few have over media channels of any kind, the more potential there is for abuse. Slowing down connection speeds, or the speed of certain websites that some political parties disagree with, can have far reaching consequences. Lack of diverse ownership in the media can slant news. We hear this on a day to day basis by some prominent people in our government. (“Fake News” anyone) In a time where 90% of the population gets much of their news and entertainment over the internet, do we want 10% of the population controlling it?
Just think, Ajit Pai, the head of the FCC appointed by the current president, was a former attorney for Verizon, and a congressional aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has trashed a program that gives poor people greater access to the internet. Many think he has set out to completely destroy the FCC as we know it. Evident by a vote that took place behind closed doors. One of the few appointments by the current administration that is actually qualified for his job, Pai could have lead by example. But from day one he pledged to undo everything previously passed in the FCC. Seem fair?
The repeal of Net Neutrality might not be an immediate smoking gun, but over time the consequences will be felt. Now is the time for level headed thinking and action on the part of the American people. These rules aren’t new, they were based under Title II of the Communications act, the ruling in 2015 just further strengthened them. Tell your representatives in Washington that you want free and fair internet for the foreseeable future. Don’t let fear and anti-regulatory policies take over the country. Educate yourself and speak out.
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