In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a stand to defend net neutrality by passing regulations designed to protect Internet users from being relegated to online “slow lanes.” But like many of the new laws from the past several years that benefited consumers, 2017 may very well be the year the new administration finally kills net neutrality once and for all.
What is Net Neutrality?
At its core, net neutrality can be summed up simply: the company that supplies your Internet access should not be able to control what you do on the Internet.
If net neutrality laws were repealed, your Internet service provider (ISP) would have the ability to influence what you are (and more likely aren’t) allowed to do while using the Internet access they provide. If your ISP decides to slow down or block access to a website for any reason, they can. If you try to visit one website, but your ISP has made a promotional deal with a similar competing site, they can redirect you from the site you intended to visit to the one they prefer instead.
ISP’s would have unrestricted freedom to pick “winners” and “losers” by offering preferential treatment to the highest bidder. New websites and online services would face an uphill battle to be adopted, because the system would be rigged against them from the start. Streaming video services like Netfilx and Hulu could be slowed down to unwatchable speeds if they refuse to pay outrageous premiums or sign exclusive deals with certain ISPs. News organization websites could become inaccessible to users because it conflicts with the beliefs and agenda of their provider’s CEO.
The potential for corruption is terrifying.
War Never Changes
Net neutrality laws, like most of the legislature that passed under President Obama, were hard-fought and tenuous to secure. Despite the FCC cracking down on Internet speed throttling and deceptive billing practices, companies were constantly testing the boundaries and looking for ways to circumvent the rules.
AT&T introduced a new policy that allows customers to watch streaming video services without the data counting against their monthly allowance. What’s the catch? Only video services that AT&T owns would be able to take advantage of this “zero rating” policy.
This practice drew the attention of the FCC, who challenged that the policy was in direct violation of net neutrality laws. But with the transition of a new administration, and with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stepping down, net neutrality has never been more threatened.
So who is left to guide the direction of the FCC? Let’s take a look at President Trump’s FCC transition team:
- Jeffrey Eisenach, a former consultant for Verizon who worked at the Federal Trade Commission during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, referred to net neutrality as “crony capitalism.”
- Trump FCC transition team member Mark Jamison, formerly the regulatory policy member for Sprint, who wrote a scathing essay proposing that the FCC be stripped of most of its authority.
- Ajit Pai, senior Republican of the FCC, who vowed to take a “weed whacker” to FCC regulations, particularly net neutrality. Pai was recently selected as the FCC’s new chairman, a move that has many net neutrality advocates seriously worried.
Even the now-President Trump has taken shots at Net Neutrality in the past, in a tweet from 2014 where he (completely incorrectly) declares that net neutrality is a “power grab” that could “target conservative media.”
While the future of net neutrality is still undecided, our course of action is crystal clear. Public outcry forced the FCC to protect net neutrality in the past, and it’s our best chance at preserving it now. Don’t wait until your children or grandchildren ask you what the Internet used to be like. Protecting net neutrality, Internet privacy, and free speech is too important to ignore.
Photo: Backbone Campaign