A hot-button issue surrounding nearly every single online circle this week was the topic of net neutrality. Back in 2014 the first push Internet Service Providers (ISPs) made to threaten the idea of a free and open Internet was made in the United States and luckily, the Internet was able to remain free and open to everyone equally. However, ISPs are making another push this year and this week instead of talking about anime and some controversial opinion I have about it, I want to shed a light on what net neutrality is, what it would mean if the laws protecting net neutrality were undone, what ISPs are trying to spread to assure that net neutrality is a negative and why they’re wrong, along with what can be done to help the issue (if you haven’t done anything about it yet and want to). Let’s begin.
Let’s start with what net neutrality is; the idea of a free and open Internet. Protected by Title II of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Communications Act of 1934, the Internet is regarded as a utility and thus ISPs cannot charge individual customers for their specific use of the Internet and they cannot charge websites for paid prioritisation. For comparison, you won’t get different charges on your water bill for how you use the water you pour and different companies don’t have to pay to get water to go through their pipes before anyone else’s. Title II, Section 202 of the Communications Act reads:
It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or
unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations,
facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly
or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or
unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or
locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any
undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.
In English, it is illegal for an ISP to make any sort of discrimination in their charges for any unreasonable or undue reason. Therefor it is legal to charge individual customers more for a higher speed in general across the entire Internet, as this is reasonable, but it’s illegal to charge one customer more for using it to watch videos on a specific site versus using it to watch videos on a site owned by the ISP. This is important because this assures that not only consumers get equal access to everything across the Internet, but also so that every business operating primarily through the Internet is assured a fair and equal starting place.
So for a hypothetical scenario, let’s say Verizon is your ISP and they own or have a deal with Tumblr, Netflix, and Facebook. Verizon isn’t allowed to say you’ll have slower load times going to WordPress instead of Tumblr, Crunchyroll instead of Netflix, or Twitter instead of Facebook; Verizon isn’t allowed to charge you extra for using one of the aforementioned sites versus using a site they own or have a deal with; Verizon isn’t allowed to charge sites they don’t own for a deal to be prioritised over sites that don’t have a deal. On top of this, Verizon can’t offer sites tiered levels of prioritisation to make deals for Tumblr to be faster than Netflix but slower than Facebook and can’t charge the customer for indevidual tiers of prioritisation per website that isn’t owned by them.
The Internet being protected by Title II is the absolute best rout for consumers and starting businesses. Why this has become an issue as I mentioned previously is because the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, announced a plan to roll back net neutrality earlier this year and in May of this year they voted to dismantle net neutrality and now here we are. Due to the United States Senate introducing a bill known as the Restoring Internet Freedom Act, net neutrality is at a risk of being undone and would make it illegal for the FCC to enforce any Title II regulations on ISPs; making all of the aforementioned legal rather than illegal.
So then what does this imply? If the Restoring Internet Freedom Act were to be put into effect, what could we expect to happen to the Internet as we know it? Overall, an infinitely more expensive and divided Internet compared to what we know today. While nothing can be said for sure, a common theory is that starting-off and Internet-based businesses will begin to have a massive disadvantage. Big players of the industry like our good friend Amazon would theoretically be able to not only pay ISPs for prioritisation to their website and on top of that may even be able to pay to slow another site’s connection. Another possibility is for the price of admission of this so-called “fast lane” to be so high that only more wealthy companies to be able to afford connection in the first place and for the only way to compete on the Internet is to be able to afford this admission fee to the fast lane.
What something so extremely anti-small business could bring us to is what exactly would get stuck on the brunt end of this deal? A perspective of the anime community would mean that if Amazon and Anime Strike was willing to pay so much to attempt to steal or at least recruit customers from Crunchyroll just a season ago, nothing would stop them from guaranteeing total acquisition of legal anime supporters by being able to pay for this fast lane while Crunchyroll couldn’t or even making a deal with ISPs to ensure Anime Strike gets an advantage over Crunchyroll. WordPress and blogging here could fade into obscurity if someone bigger and badder was willing to pay enough money to slow WordPress down. It could very easily become a world where ISPs decide who you can see and starting Internet businesses like the growing service, Discord, or ones not making enough profit to play by the new rules would fade into obscurity.
Naturally, ISPs are opponents to net neutrality, so here are a few fun facts that they have attempted to spread to assure everyone that a would without net neutrality would be one that no one would have to worry about, but with a little fun fact checking.
Internet infrastructure investment has dropped due to net neutrality.
False; investment has actually grown while net neutrality has been in effect.
Net neutrality hampers competition.
False; both wireless and wired telecom production costs are at a historic low.
Net neutrality stifles innovation.
False; the number of telecom patents filed have increased while net neutrality has been in effect.
Along with the most common fun facts being blatantly false, Ars Technica reported a few months ago that according to Internet Service Providers, there has been absolutely no drop in network investment whatsoever. However, borderline propaganda being spread by ISPs isn’t the only shady thing they’ve been up to. On July 12th’s Internet protest day, AT&T tried to trick supporters of net neutrality to believe AT&T was also a supporter but used clever wording to say they were opposed to the idea and urged people to send emails to legislators in opposition to net neutrality. Along with this, prior to the FCC’s voting on opposition to net neutrality, IPSs had set up spam bots that sent 128,000 identical comments all in opposition to net neutrality making it as clear as possible that they have no intention of standing by the consumer.
Now that 13,000 words full of facts and sources and retelling, what can be done to help? First of all, the Internet Association has a lovely guide to help show you through what can be done to help the cause which can be found here, you can leave a comment for the FCC expressing your thoughts on the matter directly here by clicking “New Filing” and then filling out the provided forum, and I urge you to share either this blog post, this video by TotalBiscuit, or even by using information from both (I included my sources for the post below as always) to spread the message in your own way.
While this may seem like a very American issue and something that only effects the United States, but laws like this could spread like wildfire. It is important to make your opposition known and to spread it. The Restoring Internet Freedom Act hurts everyone that isn’t an Internet Service Provider and understanding that is just as important as it is to be properly informed on the topic and spreading the word to make sure net neutrality remains in tact.
Your regular scheduled editorial programming will resume next week; below is a list of all of the sources I used for the post.
– Communications Act of 1934 (PDF)
– The Daily Dot: What is Title II?
– Extreme Tech: FCC Chairman Announces Plan to Roll Back Net Neutrality Regulations
– Extreme Tech: The FCC Votes to Kill Net Neutrality
– National Public Radio: FCC Votes To Begin Rollback Of Net Neutrality Regulations
– Restoring Internet Freedom Act
– Technology Review: What Happens If Net Neutrality Goes Away?
– Financial Times: America’s failure on internet competition
– Ars Technica: Title II Has Not Hurt Network Investment
– Internet Association: Net Neutrality Facts
– The Verge: AT&T Fakes Support of Net Neutrality Protests
– Ars Technica: The FCC has received 128,000 identical anti-net neutrality comments
– FCC Spam Bot Duplicate Comment List
– TotalBiscuit: Net Neutrality explained and why it matters.
Written by Tsuyuki Arumaya