What Happens Without Net Neutrality?

Nothing good — but we can keep fighting for it.

I’m getting a lot of fatigue around net neutrality. This fucker keeps coming up, over, and over again as politicians repeatedly try to overturn it and the public keeps fighting it. And, that alone, should give you pause — why do powerful assholes keep trying to shove this overturn down our throats?

(Before I get into this somewhat depressing post, I should say, I’ll have an “ideas on how to help” section at the end.)

An overwhelming majority of Americans, both democrat and republican, support net neutrality according to a recent poll carried out by Mozilla and Ipsos.

Mozilla Blog

The American public wants net neutrality. But the government, under both Obama and Trump, keeps trying to overturn it. The overturn failed under Obama but may succeed under Trump.

The thing is, overturning net neutrality would benefit large corporations and be bad for small business and individuals. One of my friends described it well on a facebook post:

Right now, there are regulations in place that, for the most part, force your ISP (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc) to treat every megabyte of data the same. A megabyte from Facebook gets treated the same way as one from Instagram, a megabyte from Hulu gets treated the same way as one from Netflix, etc. This means that ISPs aren’t allowed to preference one source or kind of content over another. It keeps the structure of the Internet neutral: it’s equally easy to get to any website so consumers have all the power in choosing what sites they want to visit.
The FCC proposal is to completely revoke all existing net neutrality protections. What does this mean? It means that ISPs can start treating certain sources or kinds of content differently than others. They can speed up, slow down, or restrict access to sources they don’t like. It means giant companies (think Facebook or Amazon) will be able to pay to have their websites be the fastest and have other sites load slower or even not at all. Smaller companies won’t be able to afford to be delivered at top-tier speeds.
It also means that ISPs can charge YOU different rates for different services. This isn’t just a hypothetical. Portugal lost its net neutrality regulations and its major wireless carrier introduced this pricing scheme (attached). It will become legal for ISPs to charge you more for different kinds of service and for specific apps or websites.
But the scariest implication over all of this is the potential fragmentation of the Internet. All of a sudden, it would become legal for, say, CNN to partner with Comcast and pay them to slow down everyone’s access to Fox News. It would become legal for Verizon (who owns Yahoo) to slow or block access to all search engines other than Yahoo. It would become legal for any super PAC to put its preferred candidate in the Internet fast lane and restrict access to their competitions’ websites. Imagine not being allowed to use a donation link to your favorite political candidate because that link is contractually blocked by your ISP. Would that actually happen? Probably not. But all of a sudden, that practice becomes possible and legal.
And imagine after we lose net neutrality, you want to organize people to bring it back. It becomes legal for ISPs to restrict access to websites or apps that promote net neutrality. It becomes legal for ISPs to do what’s called “deep packet inspection” and actually stop you from sending any messages that even contain the phrase “net neutrality.” Fighting for net neutrality is important because if we lose this fight, we might lose the *ability* to fight for this, or anything else, ever again in the future.

From my friend Tim Sahin

To summarize, if net neutrality goes away, best case scenario is that we’ll end up having to pay different amounts of money to access different types of websites or data. Worst case scenario, we’ll end up with corporate censorship of the internet as internet service providers will legally be able to stop you accessing website they don’t like.

But even the best case scenario is actually pretty bad. We can already see the results of this in countries where they’ve gotten rid of net neutrality, like Portugal. Portugal is still part of the EU, and is bound by EU rules, so their overturn of net neutrality isn’t as complete as the American one would be, but there are already starting to be some negative effects:

“In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages,” [Ro Khanna] wrote. “A huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people which stifles innovation. This is what’s at stake, and that’s why we have to save net neutrality.”

If you want to see what America would be like if it ditched net neutrality, just look at Portugal

Which brings us back to why the government keeps coming back to trying to kill net neutrality. It’s not really a secret that the government is in bed with large corporations, that the rich and powerful and basically looking to stay that way via any means possible. Overturning net neutrality will make it harder for new innovations to happen. Overturning net neutrality will make it more difficult for new companies to get big, and for new internet startups to take off. Basically, the people in power are trying to maintain their power. They’re already at the top, and they’re trying to kick the ladder out from under them so no one else can threaten their position.

Basically, overturning net neutrality is about freezing America as it is. It’s about powerful people trying to stay as powerful as possible for as long as possible, and that means taking power away from you. That means stopping you from getting the information you need to make the best decisions for yourself and your family. If a politician does something unethical, they don’t want the public to find out about it so they can keep getting re-elected. And, they’ll be able to do this, by partnering with large internet providers and getting news they don’t like suppressed.

So, ok, yeah that sucks. And, I’m not going to lie to you, it’s bleak right now. There’s a very good chance we’re going to lose next battle on this one. The FCC is explicitly ignoring public opinion, and is not legally bound to make decisions the public is in favor of. In addition, Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC 
(a republican appointed to the FCC under Obama, and appointed chairman of the FCC by Trump) cannot be voted out. He is appointed by the president, and his power is not beholden to the people. So, there is a very good chance he’s going to be able to overturn the net neutrality rules and there’s nothing we can immediately do about it.

But, you know, the US has accomplished many impossible seeming things before (getting women the vote, getting rid of slavery, etc.) and so nothing is impossible. Here are some things that can be done:

Congress can stop the FCC, and they are beholden to public opinion. So, you can call your senator or representative — there are more details on how to do that here: https://www.battleforthenet.com/

You can go to a protest if that’s your thing — apparently there’s a big one staged for December 7th outside the Verizon stores because Pai worked at Verizon before coming chairman of the FCC. More details here: http://verizonprotests.com/

Recently, a lawsuit has been filed against the FCC and their reason for dismissing public dissent against the overturn of net neutrality by the non-profit American Oversight. You can see more details about their legal case here. So, you could consider donating or volunteering at organizations that are working to protect net neutrality as well.

Additionally, as this develops further — and, especially, if it is overturned and we start seeing the results of this show up in daily life — people will come up with more ideas and more ways of resisting. But, at the very least, I hope this is on your radar. I hope this is an issue you will perhaps research for yourself, and I hope this is an issue you will consider when voting in future elections.