In Defense of Net Neutrality

Imagine, if you will, that you are browsing the web. You click on your bookmark bar for your browser to take you to Facebook. You get a notification that says “You cannot access this page. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has blocked you from this content until you pay to upgrade your internet package to include social media website. Click [HERE] to add this package for $10.99 a month”.

Do you think this is ridiculous? Well, it is. But it is 100% possible that this could be the future of the internet when the current FCC overturns the Title II protections covering the internet. What are Title II protections? Let me explain, but first we must travel back in time to 1934.

Under the supervision of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, the Communications Act of 1934 was signed into law. Under this law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established. It also transferred regulation of interstate telephone services to the FCC. There are numerous sections to this Act, but we will focus on Title II, known as the Common Carrier clause. The purpose of Title II was to ensure that, in 1934, telecommunication companies provided telephone lines to all Americans without discrimination and as a public utility. The Title II clause ensured that all American citizens would have access to a telephone line in their home as communication in this fashion was a necessity during that time. The Title II Clause was also expanded in 1996 when the government started to work against companies creating monopolies in various areas of the country, especially in rural areas where there was little competition between companies.

Cable television is not under Title II regulations, only telecommunications. Well, until 2015. In 2013/2014, the FCC was considering writing rules that would openly allow an ISP to create slow and fast lanes on the internet. That is, they could control what information would flow from websites to your computer monitor. To give you an example, Comcast could decide that they don’t appreciate that millions of people are accessing news websites sponsored by NBC. As such, Comcast could throw the switch on these sites so that they load significantly slower than Fox News. For another example, lets say there is a content creator on YouTube who posts a website that starts exposing Verizon for throttling Netflix’s access to bandwidth. Verizon then throws the switch and YouTube now takes minutes, rather than seconds, to load videos. People begin to lose access to information, innovation stalls, and the internet companies still bring in millions of dollars. Why? Because the internet is 100% necessary to conduct any sort of business in the world today. But where am I going with this?

After news of this regulation (remember, the FCC doesn’t make laws. They just write the rules these companies follow) the internet banded together and exposed it for what it is. At the time it was called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Under the guise of Piracy, Congress tried to pass legislation that would essentially codify into law this rule that the FCC was trying to pass. The internet banded together and swamped the FCC with over 4 million public comments to back off and leave the internet free and open as it has been since it was created. Eventually, the internet won. In 2015 we received net neutrality by the FCC classifying the internet under Title II protections which classified internet as a utility (like phone lines and electricity and water).

Good news, right? Yes. Under these rules we are allowed to access all websites and information on the internet equally. An ISP cannot tell us that we can access Facebook without issue, but if we want to use Netflix we have to pay extra money a month in order to do so. But this victory has been short-lived. Today, May 18, 2017, the FCC under the supervision of Ajit Pai (an ex-Verizon lawyer) has voted to begin overturning this ruling by the FCC just two years previous. Big corporations do not like that internet was classified as a public utility because it inhibiting them from treating the internet like cable television. What does that mean? Let’s use this as an example:

  • You pay $30 a month for “basic” internet, Let’s say this includes… e-mail, social media, and local news.
  • You pay another $5 a month to access national news networks (Fox, CNN, WaPo, NYT, etc.)
  • You need to pay another $10 a month to use your Netflix and Hulu services that you already pay for every month. (We could include YouTube here as well since it’s essentially a streaming service).
  • Why? Because Comcast / DirecTV / Verizon want you to use THEIR streaming services that are of lower quality instead. And since Netflix and Hulu are of better quality and using the ISP’s bandwidth, they force Netflix and Hulu to pay more fees to access the “fast lane”. Netflix and Hulu will then need to increase their fees to pay for this “fast lane”. So now you’re paying more money for your streaming services and them paying the cable company more money to access said services…
  • Pay $5 a month to use music services (Spotify, iHeart radio, iTunes)
  • Pay $10 a month to play games online (League of Legends, Diablo 3, Starcraft, World of Warcraft, or any other MMO).

What’s the TL;DR here? Well, to be honest, those in affluent areas of the country won’t be impacted quite as much. There is competition in cities when it comes to ISPs. As such, they will have options to find an ISP that best suits their needs when it comes to the package they need. What this REALLY means is that small businesses will be hurt. Rural areas will be priced out of access to the internet. Poor areas of the country will lose access to knowledge and information. Innovation will stagnate as swaths of America lose access to said knowledge. Small businesses could lose access to the internet which is essential in this day and age as many rely on online payment systems and sales.

Net Neutrality is a win for consumers. And this is why Ajit Pai, Republicans, and big corporations are working so tirelessly to overturn it. There is no way to swindle the little guy (that’s us) and to screw us out of more money. Poor (and especially majority minority group areas) will be priced out of their access to the internet.

So, why now? Ajit Pai has opened public comments for 90 days on this latest vote from the FCC. He has, however, stated that in the end it doesn’t matter. No volume of public outcry will sway him. However, we cannot remain silent. We must fight back, call your Members of Congress, flood the FCC with comments, and educate people on why net neutrality is probably one of the most free market regulations in America today. So here is what to do: