Net neutrality is not dead yet.
In December, the Republican-led Federal Communication Commission decided to reverse Obama-era net neutrality regulations. On April 23, the Internet was officially reclassified as an “information service” rather than a utility. On June 11, the repercussions of this reclassification will become tangible as the new rules repealing equal Internet access protections take effect.
But Senate Democrats are refusing to let this happen, or at least doing their best to fight it. They are currently pushing for a vote on a bill rejecting the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality and could reach a decision as soon as next week.
Unfortunately, this is only half the battle — and the easier half, at that. Though the creator of the resolution, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), is confident he has the votes necessary to push it past the Senate, it faces an uphill battle in the House. This battle intensifies if the resolution manages to make it out of Congress; it will end up on President Donald Trump’s desk — a man so hellbent on unraveling everything Obama had ever touched, there is no doubt he’d veto the resolution faster than you can say “covfefe.”
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality requires internet service providers (ISPs) to treat internet access as a utility rather than a commodity. As it stands, ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T. and Verizon are obligated to distribute internet access fairly and equally, regardless of how much they are being paid.
The repeal of net neutrality means these companies will be able to fully control what content they want people to see. It means ISPs can charge whatever they want while limiting access to anything and everything on the internet.
A Super Brief Summary:
The FCC has spent decades trying to enforce net neutrality protections. In December, the Republican-controlled FCC voted to repeal Title II of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order — a clause that mandates ISPs to be subject to the same regulations as other utilities.
(For example, utility companies cannot throttle or cut off your phone, electricity, and hot water based on how much you pay or where you live. That’s what makes them a utility — a basic necessity.)
Placing ISPs under Title II allowed for their regulation. The repeal of Title II means ISPs will now be unregulated, freeing them to completely control all content and its price.
What Does Deregulation Of ISPs Mean?
Deregulation of ISPs means that the internet is no longer considered a public service, free and egalitarian. Instead, it is a paid service provided by a handful of corporate monopolies. It is the fundamental shift from what we know as “the open internet” to an “internet for the elite.”
Why This Deregulation Is Disastrous:
Corporate monopolies will control the entire internet. They will be able to block access to websites and software, to charge you more to access certain services, to slow down your Netflix and Hulu in order to strong-arm you into purchasing another video-streaming service — no doubt their own.
Here’s an example of what the repeal of net neutrality could look like:
Some Other Powers ISPs Could Now Have:
-Control the speed at which websites and services load.
-Control the speed at which you are able to download and upload.
-Block you from accessing apps, products, and data from competitors/companies they don’t like.
-Determine your access to any and all websites depending on how much you pay them.
-Charge you for access to sites you currently use for free.
-Put a cap on how much data you’re allowed to use.
-Redirect you from sites you’re trying to reach to sites they want you to use instead.
-Block you from accessing information about any news, topics, or issues they don’t want you to see.
Who This Will Harm The Most:
ISPs’ newfound powers allow them control over companies as well as individuals. Hence the “internet fast lane,” which forces companies like Twitter or Facebook to pay extra in order to allow people to use its services. These huge companies won’t be damaged much by this. However small companies, businesses, and websites will perish.
Along with small companies, the net neutrality repeal will adversely affect women, minorities, rural communities, and internet developers. Here’s why:
-The lack of an open internet will further marginalize and silence the historically marginalized and silenced.
-Minorities and the underprivileged already have limited access to resources. The death of an open internet will annihilate all access and these peoples’ ability to contact one another online.
-For example, ISPs — who stack the pockets of many a politician— will have the ability to shut down marginalized communities’ calls to action in times of crisis and urgency.
-An ISP will have the power to block a mobilizing hashtag like #BlackLivesMatter or #MarchForOurLives.
–There is precedent for this concern; ISPs have censored access to controversial subjects in the past.
This recent quote from Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the internet, sums up the issue succinctly:
“ISPs will have the power to decide which websites you can access and at what speed each will load. In other words, they’ll be able to decide which companies succeed online, which voices are heard — and which are silenced.”
Why The FCC Voted To Repeal Net Neutrality, Despite Overwhelming Bipartisan Support:
Net neutrality benefits everyone…except for ISPs. After collectively spending over half a billion dollars lobbying the FCC, Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T found a loyal friend in FCC chairman Ajit Pai. Fully backed by Trump, he has made the death of net neutrality his life goal.
Over 20 states have since filed lawsuits to stop the repeal of net neutrality. New Jersey, Washington, Oregon and California, have already enacted laws prohibiting ISPs from blocking or slowing traffic. Unfortunately, the FCC ruling includes a caveat that allows them to prevent states from pursuing laws inconsistent with the net neutrality repeal.
As an FCC spokesperson explained to CNNMoney, “It’s patently illegal for the states to make their own internet policy.” This means that ISPs will sue the states who enforce net neutrality protections. They’ve already promised to do so.
Unless the FCC ruling itself is overturned, these state laws are in danger of being overturned.
Still, there are those fighting the good fight. According to Wired, “twenty-one state attorneys general…sued the FCC in January to block the new rules and restore the old ones; so did several consumer-advocacy groups.” Additionally, “an industry group representing Facebook, Google, Netflix, and other internet companies has also vowed to join legal fights to preserve net neutrality.”
Congress now has just over 5 weeks left to overturn the FCC ruling. If they fail, there are a ton of variables dictating what will happen and when, many of them dealing with the intricacies of timing and legalities of the court system.
The battle for net neutrality is not over — not by a long shot. And unless you’re ready to pay more money for less access to less information, it’s time you join the fight.