Net neutrality could soon be taking a big hit in the United States. Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, plans on rolling back net neutrality regulation in the near future. Interestingly, internet service providers (ISP) like Comcast are saying that they support net neutrality and will maintain our protections under the rules.
Is any of this true? What’s going to happen to net neutrality? Are ISPs really on our side?
Pai’s Attack on Net Neutrality
Under President Obama’s FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, helped pass the Open internet Order, which re-classified ISPs as telecommunications services. Previously, they had been classed as information services, which gave them more leeway in how they conducted business.
In short, being a telecommunications service means that Title II of the Telecommunications Act applies, and the government has more power to regulate how that company behaves. Essentially, it means the FCC can enforce net neutrality. (Net neutrality being the idea that all traffic should be treated equally.)
Ajit Pai, the current chairman of the FCC, is not a fan of the Open internet Order. He claims to support the idea of an open internet. But he also says that the government should focus on anti-competitive practices that actually happen, instead of regulating against possible violations of net neutrality.
How the Internet Feels
As you might expect, this has not gone over well with the internet at large. Dozens of article have attracted thousands of angry comments. The Tell FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: Don’t kill net neutrality petition has gathered close to 200,000 signatures (and it’s not the only one out there).
The Electronic Freedom Foundation has launched a tool to help people contact the FCC. They’ve also condemned Pai’s plans. John Oliver has weighed in. Tens of thousands of internet denizens have lodged complaints with the FCC. Even more have aired their grievances on Reddit and Twitter.
Consumer advocacy groups are unhappy about the rollback. The people who use the internet every day are also not happy.
A few people are praising Pai’s attack on net neutrality, though. Conservative commentators in favor of limiting the influence of government is one group. The other big group is ISPs.
Why ISPs Are Happy
If we’ve learned anything from recent battles over telecommunications services, it’s that when they support legislation, there’s a good chance it will pad their bottom lines at the expense of the consumer. Getting rid of net neutrality rules could allow ISPs to engage in anti-competitive practices like throttling, zero rating, and censorship.
Under Pai’s proposed system, ISPs would be free to engage in these suspect practices until the government decided to take them to task. Which could be far in the future… or never.
Most ISPs claim to support net neutrality. Here’s what Verizon says:
This video has received a great deal of derision since it’s been posted. Many people say that it’s disingenuous, misleading, or an outright lie.
And Comcast has been running an ad campaign on Twitter with a similar message:
— Comcast (@comcast) April 26, 2017
And they have a pretty slick GIF going around as well:
And you know what? They’re not wrong. A lot has happened since the 1930s. We live in a very different world. And Title II of the Telecommunications Act might not be the best way to legislate a fair and open internet.
But when the alternative is letting the ISPs use anti-competitive practices, Title II is necessary.
A History of Questionable Decisions
Comcast and Verizon are telling consumers that they’re supporters of net neutrality. But do their actions back up those claims? Let’s take a look.
- Supported SOPA, a piece of legislation that would have allowed them to block content and delete links to sites suspected of copyright infringement. Over 7,000 websites participated in a service blackout to fight this legislation, which was eventually defeated.
- Went to federal court over throttling peer-to-peer applications.
- Excluded its own streaming service from data caps.
- Put data caps in place last year.
Has Verizon done any better? Nope.
- Was found to be “present[ing] significant risks to consumers and competition” with its zero-rating practices.
- Selectively throttles high-bandwidth users and calls it “network optimization.”
- Allows businesses to purchase sponsored data that doesn’t count against users’ data caps.
- Sued the FCC (and won) in 2014, significantly hampering attempts at regulating net neutrality.
Of course, Comcast and Verizon aren’t alone in their fight against net neutrality. Many other ISPs have made a name for themselves as consumer-unfriendly, but these two have developed particularly notable reputations.
What Happens If Pai Ends the Open Internet Order?
The answer to this question, of course, is unknowable. But it’s a safe bet that ISPs will continue to pretend to champion net neutrality while violating all of its central tenets. Higher prices, more restrictive contracts, more exclusive content delivery deals, and partnerships with content companies are all likely.
None of those things are good for consumers.
There’s always a chance that public opinion will sway the actions of these companies. But because of the monopolies the major providers have in most of the United States (Comcast is the only major provider I can access from my city), that isn’t likely to happen.
It might be pessimistic and cynical to have such a dismal view of what ISPs will do, but I’ve seen no indication that they’ll start championing the freedom of the internet. If you feel differently, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
What Can You Do?
As with most battles that are fought in the halls of Congress, not a whole lot. However, you can leave a comment with the FCC expressing your displeasure. The process, even including finding the right page on the FCC site, is rather difficult. But John Oliver has helped us out by pointing a link to where you need to go.
Just head to http://www.gofccyourself.com/ and you’ll be brought to the right page.
Beyond that, it’s the same stuff you’ve heard before. Call your congressional representatives, sign petitions, and make sure people are informed. Share this article so people know what it is we’re dealing with.
This could be a major setback. But the fight isn’t over yet.
What do you think about Ajit Pai’s plans to roll back net neutrality regulations? Do you believe the ISPs when they say they’ll champion an open internet? Share your thoughts in the comments below!