Is he playing with a full deck? Or did his house of cards come tumbling down?
1. The ABCs Of Net Neutrality
What if we told you that you’re about to get flipped upside-down into a made-up universe where the internet isn’t free anymore and you’re blocked from accessing certain lawful sites based on your data plan? Sounds just like a detail in some weird sci-fi novel about an authoritarian government, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this might very well be our reality in the near future - the days of internet freedom might actually be numbered.
It’s likely that you’ve been hearing the term “net neutrality” thrown around a lot over the past week or so, and if you’re not entirely sure what that’s referring to, here’s what’s up: “network neutrality” is a term that was coined back in 2003 by a media law professor at Columbia University named Tim Wu. The term describes the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) cannot charge consumers differently or discriminate based on their internet content of choice or data plans. This means that the ISPs aren’t legally allowed to slow your internet speed based on which sites you visit.
Fun fact: the concept of net neutrality (or, “common carriage”) actually isn’t a new one; it’s a centuries-old law of the land that’s been applied to publicly used lands and services - for instance, railroads or telephone networks.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten the basics of net neutrality down, let’s take a look at the details behind why the internet as we know it now might be a thing of the past pretty soon...
2. The FCC's Proposal
Ajit Pai, chair of the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a 210-page proposal last week detailing his intention to repeal the net neutrality regulations put into place by the Obama Administration in 2015. His proposal reclassifies the internet as a “telecommunications service” instead of a utility, as it was previously classified. This means that ISPs will have the complete authority to control how their customers use the internet.
Pai justified the repeal of net neutrality in the Wall Street Journal with the criticism that net neutrality has been exacerbating a “digital divide” between Americans living in cities and those in less-connected rural areas. He also cited a drop in broadband network investment after the Obama Administration’s regulations were enacted.
The FCC is set to review and vote on Pai’s proposal at its Dec. 14 open meeting, and should the proposal go through, it will also forbid states from passing their own separate legislation on net neutrality. Additionally, it’s pretty likely that the proposal will pass, given that the FCC is run by Republicans.
When it all comes down to it, repealing net neutrality won’t benefit anyone but big ISPs. Should this all play out down the road, the most probable scenario is that the ISPs will incorporate internet subscriptions that would give you access to certain sites for a certain price tag. Want more sites? Then you have to pay more.
Michael Geist, a Canadian leading authority on internet law, told Vice, "The major fear is that they could do things like creating a two-tier internet that only sites that are willing to pay the additional fees will be carried on the fast lanes and everyone else is consigned to the slow lane.”
Now, for some good news: it’s unlikely that these changes will come about immediately if the proposal passes. Furthermore, the biggest ISPs will most likely hold out for the next couple years to observe how all of the legal challenges with the FCC play out over the next few years.
There is also the chance that the courts will shoot down the FCC’s order, or that Congress will try to pass a new version of net neutrality.
4. What We Can Do About It
If you’re interested in helping to stop the repeal of net neutrality, then buckle in, because we’re in for a wild ride. There are only a few weeks left until the FCC votes on the proposal, meaning we’ve got to act quickly if we want to see any inkling of hope that the internet will remain free for everyone.
The FCC will be more likely to reconsider if it sees that the repeal is hurting small ISP startups that don’t have a chance against giants like Comcast or Verizon.
If you’d like to participate in a protest in your area, check out Team Internet and where they’re holding protests.
You can also call up or tweet congress members who are still on the fence about net neutrality. Luckily, there are many lawmakers who have already been very openly against the repeal of net neutrality. Some members of the FCC have even voiced their frustration with the repeal!
Congress and the FCC need to know that the American public won’t stand for having their internet freedoms taken away without putting up a fight.