Today, I’d like to talk about the internet. A place that provides us with our social media platforms, our funny YouTube videos, and up to the second information about whatever the fuck is going on with Beyoncé’s pregnancy. The internet is truly the gift and the curse of the technologically advanced world we live in.
But today, I want to talk about something called “net neutrality.” While those two words seemingly promise more boredom than any other words in the English dictionary, the term is actually vitally important.
Net neutrality is basically the idea that your virtual “pipe” to the internet, whether on a computer, phone, tablet, etc. That pipe is not allowed to pick favorites when it comes to how fast you receive that information. For example, if you like to use Google Search and your sister prefers to use Bing Search, your internet service provider (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T) can’t say “well because Google is paying us a lot of money, we’re going to slow down Bing so that you will use Google because it loads faster.”
This practice is not allowed, making the internet a free enterprise. Cable companies can’t slow down the speed of other search engines. But this isn’t just about speed. Net neutrality ensure that there is a level playing field on the internet. It makes sure that a big streaming service like Netflix can’t arbitrarily slow down the speed of a smaller streaming service like Hulu. If Hulu moves slower, people will stop using it, putting it out of business. A free and open internet simply doesn’t allow big companies to undermine smaller competitors before they can grow.
To their credit, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did a great job of regulating cable companies under something called Title I. Title I comes from the Federal Communications Act of 1934. In very broad terms, the FCC wrote regulations on cable companies and internet service providers (ISP) that were less strict at the time. Still, ISPs found those regulations rather inconvenient, to the point where Verizon sued the FCC arguing that the FCC didn’t have the authority to enforce such regulation. Verizon ended up winning that lawsuit and the court ruled that if the FCC wanted stricter regulation, they would have to reclassify ISPs.
So that’s exactly what the FCC did. They reclassified ISPs under Title II, allowing for stronger regulation with more oversight. This was a huge step in making sure that the internet remained open and free.
The Problem Now
The problem lies where most problems seem to lie these days…Donald Trump. This administration has literally gone completely out of their way to roll back just about everything that occurred in the Obama era, and net neutrality is no different.
Because the FCC has fought hard to keep net neutrality alive and did so successfully. But when it was time for Trump to appoint a new chairman of the FCC, he chose a man named Ajit Pai. Pai is known for being anti-regulation, pro-merger, and he formerly worked for the Justice Department. He’s also on record of saying that the days of net neutrality are numbered and that he wants to “take a weed wacker” to current FCC rules. Oh, and to top it all off, he’s a former lawyer for Verizon. You know, the same company that sued the FCC over their regulations. Now one of those guys, is in charge of the FCC. How ironic is that?
Now Pai insists that there has been no widespread evidence that ISPs have been fucking around with other companies but that’s just flat-out false. Take for example, back in 2013 when Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all BLOCKED the mobile payment app Google Wallet from their phones, an app that just so happened to compete with their own mobile payment app.
Even still, Pai claims that Title II isn’t necessary to have a free and open internet. However, his alternative plans are faulty and remarkably flimsy. He suggested that instead of Title II, ISPs “would voluntarily agree not to slow down access to consumer web content” which sounds good, right? But the catch is that ISPs would embed this promise in their terms of service. The problem with that is, companies can and do change their terms of service all the time so if they wanted to throw away their promise and slow down speed, they CAN.
Keeping the internet free and open is a huge deal for all of us. The FCC is openly taking public comment and feedback on their website and we implore you to let the FCC know that you support net neutrality, as well as calling your senators and letting them know how you feel about this. Remember that your representatives work for you and should do their best to work toward the interests of their constituents.