What Was Net Neutrality?
“Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.” – Wikipedia
To break this down, Net Neutrality meant that your provider (Comcast/Charter/Time Warner/Cox/etc.) was not allowed to favor anything above another. This is a core tenant of the internet and how we have seen the explosive growth in many fields. The services are equally available to all, regardless of what your provider says currently. Simple? Simple.
Wasn’t the Internet OK Before 2015 When The Rules Were Implemented?
I’ve heard a lot about “Well, the internet was fine before 2015, so it will be just as fine after.” Whenever you hear this line, be wary of whatever they claim. The regulations that were put into place have been built up over a long period of time. The internet has not remained the same over time, and “reverting” isn’t something that can truly take place. Between new technologies, new data compression techniques, and new uses for high speed connections; putting things “back” to the way they were is impossible, as technology doesn’t like to go in reverse.
Therefore, the rules weren’t so much implemented, as regulations were allowed to be placed on ISP’s following a 2015 passing of “Title II” for internet connections. Before that, the FCC could fine companies for being anti-competitive, but could never do much more than that. And ISP’s push the boundaries of what was considered fair and kosher all the time.
All of these happened in the few years leading up to Title II reclassification. So no, the internet was not “just fine”. Internet providers were just figuring out how much the public and businesses were willing to put up with while they applied gradual pressure.
Is This Something People Should Like?
All the rules stated was that an ISP can’t say that one person’s data was priority over another, regardless of origin. Think of all the small businesses people have been able to start at home because the barrier to entry was so low. Or those looking to bring content into their homes, having the entire breadth of the internet at their disposal. Arbitrary data caps on home users, which creates artificial scarcity among consumers, would be gone. From a consumer or small business perspective, this is what your foundation for using the internet was. Cheap, available, reliable.
If So Many People Liked This, How Did It Get Repealed?
So, this is the worst part of this. This issue was clearly a People vs. Big Corporations. Not much way to describe it. 83% of the public was in support of keeping Net Neutrality. With, I’m sure, the remaining 17% being against any form of regulation or not understanding the issue. The only ones with potential for profit from this deal was not the public, and was not the small business or individual, but large incumbent companies’. Those with a firm grip on their market share and looking to wring greater profits from those who can least afford to shop for a better option.
Despite what elected officials may claim, the appointment of the FCC commissioners is done by the President, and thus is not an elected position. So public comments were widely brushed aside, as these people do not hold any public office. With the members voting along partisan lines, and with many, many campaign contributions by large ISP’s (see: $101 Million in contributions), Net Neutrality was repealed by 3 people against the voices of millions.
Was Net Neutrality Holding Back Innovation?
One of the key factors that repealing Net Neutrality claimed, was that it was holding back innovation because of its core principle. Being able to determine where a packet of data was coming from, and where it is going, are techniques that ISP’s claim could provide better services to all. For example, an email does not require the steady and constant data stream that streaming a voice call would. So you can tell the network to make sure the streamed data is handled first, while the email is lower priority. Thus, the email still is received, while the voice call would be steadier.
Was this is a valid argument? No. If you have listened to Computer America in the past few years, you would know that every major router manufacturer has now built in this same set of network data management (Example: Netgear, D-Link, ASUS) . These kinds of packet handling can be done at the point of origin, before it ever touches an ISP’s networks, and even changed by the average home user. It is not black magic, it is not complicated to implement, and it doesn’t HAVE to happen on their end.
Another argument was Tele-Medicine. The idea that medical care can happen from anywhere, but needs a much steadier connection to carry the data. If you are monitoring someones vital signs, you want to be sure your connection is rock solid. Thus, prioritization of this data was impossible to do under Title II regulations, and had to be scrapped.
Yet again, this was not something that was an issue. If a hospital was looking to use this sort of technology, then it was certainly available to them before. Large hospitals had to contact their ISP, and buy their own network that was not the same as the public infrastructure. This is something that would still be recommended. No one would trust their lives to their home internet connection, and that is why you could pay for special networks to be put down. This idea that its “Netflix or lives”, was never an argument before the repeal was put forth. There were solutions, and those same solutions are probably still the best option, before and after Net Neutrality repeal.
But maybe the most appealing of the reasons to scrap Net Neutrality has to do with cost. That through regulations, people across the board had to pay more for their services. That if these rules were done away with, the majority of users would not have to pay for what the glutinous minority was using.
As much as I like the idea of paying less, rarely have I seen my internet bill go down. And I don’t expect anything of the sort to happen in the near future. It’s no secret that more and more services are being offered through ISP’s. Between streaming content, paying bills, emailing, shopping, socializing, bitcoin mining, working from home, and more, every household in America will be using more data. The houses that use “less” than everyone else will eventually be among what is considered today’s top users. The ISP’s know this, and are preparing the best they can to capitalize on our dependence on this.
What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
The doomsday picture, is an internet you would closer relate to cable packages. Where your services are defined at the point of purchase, and flexibility isn’t a thing. If you don’t have the correct plan, no streaming video or social media for you. Or you don’t have the top plan, no HD for your videos. Same if you don’t pay enough money, your business isn’t allowed to upload content or use certain services.
If you aren’t a large corporation, you can’t afford to be as consumer friendly as your competition. Deals are made where only certain networks give access to content, and it may not be available in your area. Your ISP holds all the cards when it comes to what data you are allowed to access, when you are allowed to access it, and how much you are allowed to consume. The internet is no longer free and open, but segregated and fractured.
Will That Happen?
Probably not any time soon. The doomsday predictions are just that. And while it’s certainly possible these things could come to pass, ISP’s are smarter than that. Even with less competition than ever before, they don’t want the pain to be felt. The changes will come gradually, with promises of benefits and prizes. Think along the lines of T-Mobiles Binge On program. It promises unlimited data, great! But only with services that have paid to be in on the network. Everyone else, every other service you may want, counts towards a cap. Making a market of determined winners and those who can’t play, losers. Small changes will eventually lead to big differences. And this is the course we are now on. The world isn’t ending, but it’s not consumer friendly.
What’s The Next Step?
This whole exercise shows just how ineffective the FCC can be in terms of regulating things that matter. While we would all hope consumer protections are first and foremost in their minds, the changing of just a few people can derail the whole effort. This is why the next best step would be to call your congressman. I would not recommend filling out any kind of form and submitting it, as these seem to be useless. Actual dissent, voices, and people will drive change. Mass email campaigns will not. Remember, one administration can undo the previous administrations work, but laws are much harder to change. We needed a more permanent solution than Title II to begin with, so the next step should be to make it count.
Computer America is not calling on you to blindly parrot our views. We know that this is complicated, and don’t expect everyone to care, let alone dig deep into the issue. But knowing the consequences of our actions should be a good starting point. And repealing Net Neutrality was not a step in the right direction. This we firmly believe. If you have any concerns with this article, or would like to respond, feel free to do so in the comments. Thanks for reading!
The Federal Trade Commission is being recommended to handle enforcement of the new unregulated internet. Many ISP’s in court have found themselves exempt from FTC regulations, and beyond that, FTC has little to no teeth when it comes to consumer protections. It can place fines, but has no true way to enforce those fines are paid, let alone any rules are followed that will result in fines. The FCC giving control to the FTC is yet another subtle way that consumer protections are being stripped in favor of letting ISP’s decide for themselves what is best for consumers.