Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Net Neutrality and You

Save the Internet

Credit: Joseph Gruber License

You’ve probably heard the term “Net Neutrality” before, but what is it, really? It’s a highly important topic that should be on everyone’s radar, because it affects us all. It should be a non-partisan issue, but President Trump has already repealed FCC privacy rules, in addition to the GOP passing legislation to allow the sale of private Internet data. Now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced plans to roll back regulations that classify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as utilities. Read on for a breakdown of Net Neutrality and what we can do to fight for it.

What is Net Neutrality?

Simply, it’s a stance indicating that the access and delivery of content via the Internet shouldn’t be interfered with by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

As with most things, there are grey areas with Net Neutrality. For instance, T-Mobile’s Music Freedom program has been criticized for not counting data used from major audio streaming services towards a customer’s monthly data allotment. While this is a nice perk on paper, it isn’t necessarily neutral either, and leaves a door open for possible exploitation by ISPs and content providers.

Why is Net Neutrality important?

Without clear and specific rules in favor of neutrality, a major fear is exploitation of the Internet. Two of the major fears are the creation of pay-to-access content and fast lanes by the ISPs (more on this below).

Key to Net Neutrality: Internet as a utility

An often contended point: should the internet be considered a utility? The FCC thought so in 2015 while led by FCC led by Chairman Tom Wheeler when they reclassified ISPs as common carriers (read: utilities) under Title II of the Telecommunications act. This allows the FCC to regulate and provide stringent oversight of ISPs similarly to Water and Electricity carriers. This act is referred to as the FCC’s Open Internet Rules.

ISPs for the most part are opposed to being classified as Title II, claiming the FCC shouldn’t be allowed to tell them how to conduct business. This recent video by Verizon highlights the absurdity in this line of thought and spreads misinformation about the changes the FCC is now proposing (more on that next).

In April 2017, new FCC head Ajit Pai proposed rolling back Title II classification to Title I (information services), in a filing ironically referred to as “Restoring Internet Freedom”. This would provide a light-handed approach in regulating something nearly 75% of Americans have access to (according to 2015 statistics as seen below).

Internet has indeed become a utility–it’s as simple as that. Going forward, it would be impossible for anyone to not use the internet. It is vital and regarded a basic human right by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Pew Research Center statistics for Internet adoption among Americans between 2000–2015.

Pew Research Center statistics for Internet adoption among Americans between 2000–2015.

Without Neutrality

These are a couple of the major fears if the internet does not remain classified as a utility.

Hypothetical: Pay-to-Access Content

Imagine groups of websites/internet services being bundled together and your ISP charging you access to them. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the Cable TV model applied to the Internet. For instance: bundling Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other streaming video services together and calling it a “Video Streaming Bundle” add-on for only $10 per month! Without subscribing to this bundle, you only get access to “Internet Basic!”

Hypothetical: Fast Lanes

Imagine an ISP charging Netflix and Hulu directly for better and faster performance on their network, leaving other streaming services on the regular (read: slower) speeds. As a result, customers experience manufactured fast and slow speeds depending on the service used. This concept also has the potential to alter competition and destroy innovation in the from of new businesses/services that can’t afford a “fast lane” premium.

Credit: Steve Sack, Star Tribune

What We Can Do

  1. Tell the FCC to leave Title II regulations for the Internet in place. Tell them you strongly believe the Internet is a utility. To do so, visit this page on the FCC site and click on the “+Express” link to leave a comment.

  2. Share this post with anyone who will listen. Educate your family, friends, and co-workers who may not be familiar with Net Neutrality. Protecting the Internet should be on everyone’s radar.