I am sure by now you have all heard the term ‘net neutrality’. Many do not understand quite what the term means, and others may have misconceptions based on political rhetoric, so for starters let us make sure we are on the same page with what it is and why it is so important.
Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet service providers (Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner, Verizon, etc.) should treat all traffic on their networks equally. That means companies like Verizon should not block or slow down access to any website or content on the Web – for instance, to benefit their own services over those of competitors.
In layman’s terms, what this means is that your broadband provider, which controls your access to the Internet, can’t block or slow down the services or applications you use over the Web. It also means your Internet service provider — whether it’s a cable company or telephone service — can’t create so-called fast lanes that force content companies like Netflix to pay an additional fee to deliver their content to customers faster. It means that cable ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T or Verizon don’t get to choose which data is sent more quickly and which sites get blocked or throttled based on which content providers pay a premium.
Ajit Varadaraj Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, is Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC). As such, he is against net neutrality, preferring to give full control of the internet to the tech giants, the wealthy communication corporations.
In 2015, the FCC voted to more strictly regulate Internet Service Providers. But along comes Donald Trump in 2017 and, along with Pai, wants to repeal those rules. What will the result be for the average internet user if net neutrality is overturned? Let us look back to 2014:
In 2014, if your service provider was Comcast and you were a Netflix subscriber, you experienced a 30% slowdown on streaming videos via Netflix. The reason is the communication giant ‘throttled’ Netflix. Ultimately a deal was reached whereby Netflix would pay Comcast for direct access to its broadband network. While I do not know the amount of money involved, I can guarantee you that when Netflix incurs payment to Comcast, it does not see a reduction in its bottom line, but instead passes that additional cost to you, the consumer. The deal became null and void in 2015 with the advent of the new net neutrality rules, but if they are overturned, much more of this gouging can be expected within a short time.
Pretty much everyone outside the large cable companies supports the FCC’s net neutrality rules. In an uncharacteristic display of unity, large companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook have joined forces with smaller companies such as Reddit, Netflix, Vimeo and Etsy and activists including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU and Demand Progress to protest the proposed rollback. They are among the 200 organizations that participated in a day of action on Wednesday in an attempt to get their users to contact Congress and the FCC and demand that net neutrality be protected. After Wednesday’s day of action, members of the public will have until 18 July to send comments to the FCC. Replies to those comments are due by 16 August, after which the FCC will make a final decision.
And in a completely separate, yet related issue … In April, Trump signed into law a bill that repealed previous legislation guaranteeing our internet privacy. The initial FCC regulations would have required broadband companies to get permission from their customers in order to use their “sensitive” data — including browsing history, geolocation and financial and medical information — to create targeted advertisements. While this news was reported at the time, it was largely overlooked in light of whatever Trump news was dominating the headlines that day, so many may have been unaware. What this means for you is that … say you Google a specific medical condition, such as athletes foot. Tomorrow, your inbox may be filled with advertisements for creams and cures for the condition, but not only that … while you are browsing on social media, you will also receive pop-up ads for the same type of products. Now just imagine that what you Googled was of a much more sensitive nature …
In both the net neutrality and the internet privacy issues, the winners are the big corporations, the communication giants and in the latter, any company that advertises on the internet. The losers are We The People. While the internet privacy bill has already been signed and its repeal is unlikely under the current batch of republicans in both the White House and Congress, it is not too late to take a stand against the repeal of internet neutrality. WordPress itself has placed an announcement requesting its members to use their voices to speak out against this repeal. I second their motion.