Net neutrality affects us all and it is important that we pay attention. Last week, some 80,000 websites voiced their protest of the Trump administration's proposed rollback of the FCC's current net neutrality protections. For you as a consumer, small business owner, or just plain Internet surfer, the overturn of net neutrality could harken the loss of the free internet as we know it.
In 2015, due to the massive outcry of consumers and tech companies alike, the FCC put in place strong protections for consumers that essentially require internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to treat all web traffic equally and fairly.
Under the enacted Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, ISPs were classified as a utility. This caused them to be regulated in a manner similar to a company providing electricity or water. These rules banned something called "paid prioritization," wherein an ISP would give special treatment to applications and websites who pay more.
Consider that your high-speed internet connection is like a highway. Some sites demand more broadband to function properly. Streaming a movie from Amazon or Netflix obviously requires a lot more space on the highway than checking your email or visiting a static webpage. ISPs argue that this means certain sites and users are slowing down the internet for everyone else. If it were up to them, they would like to throttle (slow) traffic to certain sites, or charge either the site or the end user a fee for accessing these bandwidth "hogs." This would offset the cost of improving infrastructure to accommodate the increased need for bandwidth.
Big companies like Google, Apple and Netflix would actually benefit in some ways from these regulations being rolled back. They have pretty deep pockets, so if the ISPs started charging fees for their content to proceed through the internet, they could afford to pay them, or they could easily just turn over that cost to consumers by raising prices or charging for things they don't charge for now. They could also benefit from the reduced competition. Squash the little guy and the big guy wins.
Yet (and this is pretty huge!) all of these companies and many more are in support of the regulations. They believe that allowing ISPs the power to control online traffic gives the DSL, cable and fiber optic providers an unacceptable amount of influence over what users can do online.
Net neutrality also encourages innovation. A small business owner who has a great idea for a video streaming service that would compete with the "big guys" like YouTube has an equal chance of having his website seen when net neutrality is enforced. Without these protections, YouTube could pay more to the ISP to say, "show people only my content," and the little-guy video streaming service could not possibly compete.
The current FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, believes that there is no evidence that ISPs would intentionally slow down a company's access to the internet for their own financial gain, and that we should trust that they won't choose to do so in the future. Essentially, "let them regulate themselves.” History tells us that this sort of laissez-faire approach to regulation is invariably fraught with corruption. What motivation does an ISP company have to "play nice," when it holds all the cards and can do whatever it wants and charge whatever it wants? None.
What's more, ISPs such as Verizon and AT&T have been recently buying into content companies — Verizon bought AOL and Yahoo and AT&T has been moving toward television programming. Imagine that these companies are in direct competition with Netflix, Amazon and Google for providing content on the internet that they control. There is a very powerful financial incentive for them to promote their own content while slowing down the content of their competitors. It's only natural that they would attempt these tactics to promote their own brands and affect their own bottom lines.
Three years ago, the comedy show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver posted a video that went viral regarding net neutrality (a fun watch if you're interested). In the show, he suggested that public commenters go to the FCC website and voice their concerns about the rules change. The public took up the outcry in record numbers and even managed to crash the FCC website. Yet again, public comments are being accepted and will be accepted through mid-August. After that, the commission will vote upon it.
If you would like to comment on your approval or disapproval of net neutrality regulations, the shortened website address is http://bit.ly/2qHNb2E. You must click on the "+Express" link and complete the form before you can add your comments. Alternatively, you can go to https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express and enter proceeding number 17-108 into the Proceedings space.
Net neutrality should not be a partisan issue, flip-flopping back and forth through every administration. A majority of Americans support a free and fair internet. Congress needs to enact legislation to settle the issue once and for all. If you feel the same, I encourage you to contact your congressional representatives. Go to your Facebook page, along the left-hand side under Explore (you may have to click "see more"), there's a button labeled Town Hall. The Town Hall feature will show you a list of representatives for your state. If you’ve added a home address to Facebook, you’ll see your specific area representatives, and the Contact button will get you in touch.
Nerd Chick Adventures is written by Andrea Eldridge and Heather Neal from Nerds On Call, an onsite computer and laptop repair company in Redding. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to https://callnerds.com/.