Unlike most Americans, I tend to keep my political beliefs mostly suppressed unless something hits a deeply rooted nerve. I find it emotionally draining to get into a debate in the cesspool that Facebook comments become. On the other hand nothing gets my blood boiling like having to fight for the same cause over and over. In any highly profitable market there are always groups that will work against the grain if it means making a few extra bucks and the Open Internet is not immune.
The problem with the fight surrounding Net Neutrality and an Open Internet is that it shouldn’t even be a partisan issue. There is no arguing the profound impact that a free and open internet has had on our society and humanity as we know it. The drastic advances we’ve made in almost every part of our lives because of the Internet cannot be understated. I knew from a very young age how important the Internet was going to be, especially in education, so I studied and currently work in the industry to be a proponent of fair practices and to defend what I know is right. With any hot topic issue, lobbyists are heavily bankrolled by large corporations to sway control so that they can continue to pursue unethical profits. It seems it’s that time again where the largest Internet Service Providers are fighting to gain more control over something that is so pivotal yet heavily taken for granted.
In case you are new to this whole debate, let me get you up to speed. Net Neutrality is not a new concept. Coined in 2003, it was predicted by Law Professor Tim Wu that the battle of the Open Internet was to come. That next year FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, argued that a free internet was essential for customers to thrive. Over the past decade, the strife between the large ISPs and the FCC had mostly gone unnoticed by the general population. It wasn’t until streaming media like Netflix and the shock of the NSA’s bulk collection practices did the state of the Open Internet come to the forefront. Citizens around the world are starting to realize how tied their daily lives are to the Internet.
According to whatisnetneutrality.org, Net Neutrality is defined as:
The principle that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet.
It can’t get much simpler than that. You are paying a company to have access to the Internet. They should not be collecting your data, they should not be controlling the speeds of different types of traffic, and they should not be controlling what you do.
Under the leadership of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, the Internet was classified as a utility meaning that ISPs would be regulated on what they could do. There would be no fast lanes and all traffic, besides traffic management policies, would be treated the same. It was not a perfect victory, but it was a step in the right direction.
Today, under the Trump administration, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai states that we should rollback the Title II regulation on ISPs and that the companies should voluntarily commit to treating customers fairly. This comes after rolling back privacy regulations so that ISPs can sell your browsing data to the highest bidder. In reality he is just trying to shift responsibility to another government agency because to the new age Republican party is pushing that any regulation is bad. Nobody wants so much red tape on an industry that it is impossible to innovate, but to state that we need no regulation on an industry is as irresponsible as you can be. (Teddy Roosevelt would like a word with you, Mr. Pai) We need small yet efficient regulation. And just so we are clear, these are not regulations ON the Open Internet. They are regulations on Internet Service Providers. These regulations act as a barrier so that large companies don’t take advantage of one of the best inventions that humans have ever created. These regulations let small, budding companies compete against the established big dogs. They protect consumers from a dystopian future where you have to pay a premium to access certain webpages.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has a few words on the matter.
“When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation, and free expression. In today’s world companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?”
– Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web
This isn’t a partisan issue. Both sides of the spectrum have defended our Internet freedom in the past, but I’m afraid there has been a dramatic shift. Don’t let any politician tell you what you want or need. It is their job to listen to their constituents.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) and the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org) have been huge proponents of Net Neutrality (and a whole plethora of other important issues).
You can reach the FCC on twitter at @AjitPaiFCC and @FCC.
To leave a public comment on the new FCC proposal, go to https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/search/filings?proceedings_name=17-108 and click “New Filing” in the left sidebar. The proposal is called Restoring Internet Freedom. Talk about a misnomer.