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NET NEUTRALITY: MONETIZING THE INTERNET

Perla Limon, Editor in Chief

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The newly appointed Trump administration FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a proponent of limited government and a free-market approach to regulation, has publicly taken a stance against net neutrality. However, this isn’t a new occurrence when it comes to Chairman Pai’s history. Even when he was a regulator in 2012, he voted against several policy proposals by former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, including the motion to establish net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality is currently enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In plain English, Net Neutrality follows the belief that everything on the internet should be treated equally. It prevents internet providers, like Verizon and Comcast from deciding what content that consumers can access, and what they cannot. Internet providers can accomplish this by blocking or slowing down loading from “controversial” sources.

Through Net Neutrality, Internet providers have to treat all traffic sources equally without bias, no matter what affiliations they may have with certain programs. These selective restrictions have the potential to manipulate the information that people can receive, and thus indirectly lead people to take the side of their internet providers due to blocked information that may go against them.

In 2007, Verizon Wireless rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program. Verizon claimed that it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, especially ones “that seek to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users,” despite the fact that the Naral Pro-Choice America program would solely available by request, to those who wish to be informed of important Pro-Choice decisions.

In another instance, in 2013, Comcast slowed Netflix streaming speeds until Netflix gave in and paid more for smoother streaming. Netflix was further pushed to pay more by irate customers, who called customers service, filed complaints, and countless even ended their Netflix subscription. When the February deal with Comcast went through, Netflix’s speeds soared once more. According to David Goldman, a writer for CNN Tech, “Netflix and its CEO Reed Hastings have become outspoken critics of those direct-connect deals, accusing the Internet service providers of shakedown tactics.”

In 2015, the FCC established clear rules so that broadband providers cannot do this, redefining internet service providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the communications act. Companies regulated under Title II can’t discriminate what services they’re providing to the consumer. Despite threats to sue the FCC, Commissioner Wheeler said, “We are going to be sued. We don’t want to ignore history. We want to come out with good rules that accomplish what we need to accomplish.”

Democrats, like former President Barack Obama, highly support these regulations of internet provider’s power. On the other hand, Republicans in the broadband industry see them as unnecessary government oversight that may go so far as to prevent innovation and growth. According to Wall Street Journal, “They [Internet providers] also see the free-market as a solution; If you don’t like Comcast slowing your Netflix, switch to Verizon.” However, the majority of Americans only have one provider of high speed internet service to choose from.

In more current news, in 2016, The House of Representatives voted 241 to 173 to pass H.R. 2666, ‘The No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act.’ The passing of this bill undermines the FCC’s ability to enforce key net neutrality protections by barring the FCC from regulating the rates of broadband Internet providers. The main issue is that the bill is worded so vaguely that it’s impossible to determine what exactly it plans to do, and may therefore be used to prevent the FCC from enforcing many protections of users’ rights. H.R. 2666 will bring a host of unintended consequences.

This brings us back to Ajit Pai. The FCC is an independent agency that switches parties constantly, typically with each new president. However, with Trump being a Republican, and Chairman Pai strongly opposing Net Neutrality, we can already guess where the FCC’s regulation policies are headed.  In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, Pai stated that “President Clinton got it right in 1996 when he established a free market-based approach to this new thing called the Internet… We saw companies like Facebook and Amazon and Google become global powerhouses precisely because we had light-touch rules that apply to this Internet.” His plan would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to give websites preferential treatment. Even so, Pai assured the people that his plan would require a certain degree of transparency, meaning that internet providers must proclaim their intentions and preferential treatments. Despite the obvious downside to this plan, increasing the monetization of the internet depending on which provider is used by the consumer, Pai insists that the situation would have benefits. Benefits to who?

According to Mozilla, the nonprofit corporation that made the Firefox browser, “The end of net neutrality would only benefit Internet Service Providers.”

Another opposer to Pai’s plan, the ACLU, pleads in favor of preserving net neutrality laws and regulations. “In a world without net neutrality, activists may lose an essential platform to organize and fight for change, and small organizations may never get a fair shot to grow and thrive,” said Ronald Newman, ACLU director of strategic initiatives. “Congress must stop Chairman Pai’s plan in its tracks and ensure that net neutrality remains the law of the land.”

On November 22, 2017, the FCC announced a new proposal, “Proposal to Restore Internet Freedom”. Despite the harmlessness implied in the title, this proposal plans to eliminate net neutrality protections. Should this proposal be carried through, this new rule would reclassify high-speed broadband as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service”, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). This would eliminate other rules against blocking, throttling, and pay-to-play, leaving only a simplistic transparency requirement. Not only is this detrimental to the Internet as a whole, but it opens up a whole new source of revenue for ISPs.

Net neutrality has been a vital pillar in the sanctity of “Free Internet”, and putting through this proposal to eliminate it would be a complete withdrawal from more than a decade worth of work to protect internet users from unfair actions by ISPs. Only two years ago, the FCC created laws that strictly prohibited ISPs from favoring any sites or information over others. And yet we are now currently facing the very real threat of internet ‘fast-lanes’ for those willing to pay more.

The removal of net neutrality also creates a foundation for the creation of ‘Pay-for-play’ internet mentality. As a result, Internet may begin to function more like cable television, where the wealthy insiders decide which speakers can reach a broad audience and which are denied. In addition, a pay-to-play Internet means makes it harder for smaller sites and startups to get off the ground. They will be forced to negotiate with multiple ISPs to avoid their content being buried, degraded, or even blocked in favor of other popular websites and apps.

Not even Antitrust enforcement is in a well enough state that it can deal with regulated industries like ISPs. The FTC itself wrote a statement to warn Congress about it, entitled “Is There Life After Trinko and Credit Suisse? The Role of Antitrust in Regulated Industries”.

The FCC is repealing important net neutrality protection laws, that will harm consumers and lower the value of the internet by monetizing it in its entirety. These changes will affect us all, whether by blocking your favorite website on Pro-Choice, or slowing the streaming to a website because your ISP is affiliated with another, or even allowing the development of a pay-for-play mentality.

The best way to help is to contact Congress, but there’s other ways to make sure the people’s voices are heard. Protests are currently being planned throughout the United States; if there is one nearby, participate, or at the very, encourage others to take action and look into Ajit Pai’s plan. Even if the FCC elects to ignore the demands of the people, there’s another front to fight in, the courts.

“The FCC may be abandoning its role in protecting the Internet, but we won’t.” Says the EFF.

 

To contact congress, please visit: act.eff.org/action/protect-the-open-internet-order

 

For more information, please visit the websites below:

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/22/565962178/fccs-pai-heavy-handed-net-neutrality-rules-are-stifling-the-internet

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/11/lump-coal-internets-stocking-fcc-poised-gut-net-neutrality-rules

http://www.businessinsider.com/net-neutralityfor-dummies-and-how-it-effects-you-2014-1

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/114-2016/h152

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/04/house-passes-bill-sabotage-net-neutrality

http://www.wsj.com/video/net-neutrality-explained/B1361E30-1ED2-4D5B-A1E3-3C10CE25E64D.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/27/us/27verizon.html

http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/29/technology/netflix-comcast/index.html

http://www.adweek.com/digital/net-neutrality-fcc-reclassifies-isps-as-common-carriers/

 

Photo Credit: “Net Neutrality rally” Unaltered Photo by Alistair [Flickr]. Some Rights Reserved. <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/> <https://flic.kr/p/4RFiJd>

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