Why We Should Continue To Fight For Net Neutrality
More than 40% of the adult US population uses the internet as a primary source of news.Yet, as demonstrated by the recent vote, the FCC cares a whit about fairness in access and use of the internet.
Today, radio is perhaps the only source of news and entertainment that you aren’t directly paying for — you pay with your “hearing/listening time” when commercials are aired on the radio. Even public radio stations have their own kind of commercials — they announce who supports a particular segment of a show, these are called “underwriting spots”. But according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, only about 25% of adults access news primarily via the radio. The rest of the adult population accesses news from directly paid sources — 18% from print newspapers; 50% from television; and 43% access news online (figures do not total 100 because multiple sources are accessed by many).
In February 2015, FCC prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, slowing or speeding up web content, or charging customers additional fees to access certain web services; and almost three years later, on December 14, 2017, the FCC overturned this by a 3–2 vote — along party lines. Much had been written about the loss of net neutrality, and the topic was trending in Google searches, peaking on December 14. However, since that day there’s been a decrease, with an increase in other searches, including that of “Santa Claus”.
What’s in store now that the FCC has voted?
All is not lost, at least not yet. Procedurally, according to the Congressional Review Act of 1996, before any federal rule takes effect, the federal agency that promulgates the rule must submit it to Congress for review. If Congress passes a joint resolution disapproving the rule, and the resolution becomes law, the rule cannot take effect or continue in effect. All this has to happen within 60 session or legislative days of the rule being passed. With the holidays in place, and December 18–29 being assigned as “State Work Period” (that’s the time legislators should be back in their home states, mingling with constituents and listening to, and addressing their concerns), early March 2018 will be the target date.
This means you have a chance to contact your senators and representatives and let them know how you feel about the FCC’s vote. In support of this disastrous vote, FCC chairman Ajit Pai and his supporters have been disingenuous in saying the end user will notice no change in service (which is also included in a video featuring Mr. Pai). Attorneys general from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Kentucky, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Massachusetts have announced plans to challenge the FCC’s vote, and this is promising. However, the voice of voters has a great deal of power, and since results from a number of different polls indicate that a majority of Americans support net neutrality, we need to reinforce this by contacting our legislators; as well as other state attorneys general.
What will be the effect of a loss of net neutrality?
Have you taken a look at your most recent television cable bill, or phone bill? Are you able to understand all the package details, and associated pricing? Do you have the time and energy to dissect those details so that you understand them? I’m guessing only a few people are willing to go through the agonizing process, no matter how much they wish they understood what all the details were, or meant.
Without net neutrality, you will likely receive a similarly convoluted bill from your internet service provider (ISP), and have a very difficult time understanding it. But that would be the least of your worries: because the major ISPs have been “bundling” their services for some time now, teasing out and then complaining about charges is going to be even more difficult. As an example, let’s take a look at Comcast. Although the company was incorporated in 1969, it really took off in the 1990s when it also entered the nascent mobile phone market. With increasing complexity in the company’s portfolio, which included offering internet connections by 1996, it has been able to create a melange that looks more like an untidy mess in subscribers’ monthly bills. As of this writing, Comcast is the major ISP in a large portion of the country; sometimes even the only ISP in some areas. Needless to say, Comcast has a growing pool of unhappy customers (check the interactive map at the FCC website, that shows availability of broadband across the country).
If Congress approves the FCC vote, subscribers will be left with not just a messy bill, but very likely access that is not unlike internet access in China — the only difference being that in China, the government controls the speed at which particular sites can be accessed (or not).
Will the death of net neutrality give rise to pacts and alliances between ISPs and online vendors? Or between ISPs and other commercial sites? Will .org sites lose out in all this? What will happen to sites that provide support services in areas that don’t align with an ISP’s corporate mission? What about search engines and news sites — will we see preferential treatment of some sites over others? With an increase in telemedicine, the contours of global healthcare are changing, mostly for the better — how will this be affected by an absence of net neutrality? What about banking — will some banks receive preferential treatment over others?
The list of questions is endless. After all, if you go back to the now dated phrase coined by Al Gore — “information superhighway” and use it to understand the issues that surround net neutrality, killing net neutrality should be a nonstarter: can you imagine a highway, entry and egress from which is controlled by a chosen entity? Would entry points and exits be mapped to areas that bring said entity maximum revenue? Of course not! Imagine if I-95 was controlled by McDonald’s — all rest areas would either get rid of the other stores and restaurants, or the prices of the products from those would be higher, to make up for the rent they’d have to pay McDonald’s. In short, the person who used the rest stop would have to pay a higher price.
There are those who’ve been saying that the fight for net neutrality is being fueled by the same people who were scaremongering about Y2K — remember that? Thanks to remedial work and contingency planning by dedicated cohorts of programmers and infrastructure caretakers, January 1, 2000 came in without too many problems. With a similar level of dedication to overturn the FCC vote, particularly in light of the fact that a majority of voters are for net neutrality, it’s conceivable that we can rest easy on this matter in March. Rest easy, but alert — these things seem to keep coming at us in the last year.