Culture

Your Right To A Free And Open Internet Is In Danger

by Andre Grant

March 9, 2017

Net neutrality—the idea that all internet traffic should be available to everyone equally whether you’re streaming music, watching movies or reading the newspaper—once again finds itself in need of saving.

Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, have long argued that laws preventing them from slowing service and forcing companies and individuals to pay premiums to keep their data moving quickly—along with restrictions imposed by basic telecommunication rules—are unfair to the industry.

While the world at large understands forcing people to pay more for something others get for free is unfair, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, agrees instead with the ISPs.

Pai has already claimed that the policies allowing the FCC to punish ISPs for violating net neutrality rules have their “days numbered.” In remarks before the Free State Foundation, he described the rules of net neutrality, which classified the web as a public utility, as “a solution that wouldn’t work for a problem that didn’t exist.” Ouch.

Sadly for all of us who connect with friends, conduct our business, and stay informed using the web could find ourselves in trouble. With a Republican-controlled House and Senate, the reversal and repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality guidelines established in 2015 could easily be realized. Already, 25 senators have proposed a bill to kill internet privacy rules to allow companies to share your browser history so they can sell more ads. 

To oppose any anti-net neutrality measures, more than 170 groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation—have endorsed an open letter urging the FCC to reconsider its position on net neutrality rules.

“The continuation of net neutrality is essential to the continued growth of the country and to ensuring access to social, political, and economic empowerment for all,” said the letter. It continues, “Since the order went into effect, broadband infrastructure investment is up, ISP revenues are at record highs, and businesses continue developing innovative ideas and offerings.”

Recently, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed suit against Time Warner for doing the sorts of things that net neutrality protects against. Here’s a snippet of the complaint filed when Netflix refused to pay a levy to allow streams to remain unaffected:

“The quality of the Netflix video streams received by Spectrum-TWC subscribers dipped significantly during peak hours...This resulted in subscribers getting poorer quality streams during the very hours when they were most likely to access Netflix.”

But fear not, there may be hope just like there was with Thomas Wheeler, Barack Obama’s FCC chairman appointee.

At the time of his appointment, Wheeler had been a 20-year lobbyist in the private sector for cable companies including The Wireless Association (CTIA), a group that now happens to back Pai in hopes that he repeals net neutrality edicts.

Lobbying groups for the cable and internet industries lauded Wheeler’s nomination, believing he would slow net neutrality laws, saying at the time, “We applaud President Obama on his nomination of Tom Wheeler to be the next FCC Chairman.”

But in a surprise twist, Wheeler became cable and internet provider’s worst nightmare, turning net neutrality principles into law. His marquee policies led to hard-won legal victories that categorized providers as the public utility they are considered today.

Perhaps we can hope Pai will have the same change of heart that Wheeler did. 

For now, as we’ve been doing for a number of measures, the best way to make your voice heard on net neutrality and continuing fairness for all are in the form of phone calls, letters, and pressure on your individual representatives. Here’s how to contact them.

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Your Right To A Free And Open Internet Is In Danger