It’s not too late to make your voice heard.
Yesterday federal regulators voted to repeal landmark Obama-era regulations overseeing broadband companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, paving the way to allow these internet service providers to speed up some websites, slow down others and charge additional fees for (or block) higher-quality bandwidth-intensive service or even certain content. The federal government will no longer regulate internet service as if it were a utility like phone service.
The 3-2 party-line vote is expected to rapidly transform the internet service market. The FCC also voted to prevent future FCC members from reversing the Republican-driven ruling. Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman and former Verizon lawyer and lobbyist, has championed deregulation. In order to demonstrate the type of content that should be throttled down, Mr. Pai indulged his inflated ego by releasing a video that showed him dressed as Santa, wielding a lightsaber and playing with a fidget spinner. In the video, Pai mocks his critics and defends his decision to repeal net neutrality rules.
Sounds like a pretty bleak future for the Internet, doesn’t it?
“We are helping consumers and promoting competition,” claimed Mr. Pai, who has aggressively pursued a pro-business deregulation agenda since being appointed by Mr. Trump earlier this year. He has already rolled back limits placed on media ownership, removed limits placed on how much broadband providers can charge businesses, removed privacy protections designed to protect broadband consumers, dismantled a low-income broadband program, and upheld rules that enable phone companies to price-gouge prison inmates.
The Republican argument is that regulation stymies innovation. They are quick to point out that before the net neutrality rules went into effect in 2015, service providers had rarely engaged in the practices the rules prohibit. Sure, AT&T blocked FaceTime users and many European ISPs already charge subscribers extra to visit social sites, stream music and video, and run instant messaging apps, but they assert that just won’t happen this time. Several internet providers have publicly pledged that they will not block or throttle websites while asserting that regulations had limited their ability to compete, an argument that makes little sense given the lack of competition seen in the broadband market today. Plus, we know that businesses always keep their promises to consumers.
During the vote yesterday, the two Democratic FCC commissioners presented boxes of letters written to protest the changes and strongly voiced their concerns that the three Republican commissioners were “defying the wishes of millions of Americans”. And yet, two million comments filed to the FCC on net neutrality were submitted under stolen identities, while half a million came from Russian addresses, and 50,000 net neutrality complaints have gone “inexplicably missing.” One of the Democratic commissioners, Mignon Clyburn said, “I dissent, because I am among the millions outraged, outraged because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.”
What This Means for You
In an earlier article, I suggested that the possibility exists to create tiered pricing plans where every different internet service you want, like low-latency gaming, streaming video, or instant messaging, adds to your bill. Large websites could pay ISPs to slow down new competitors. ISPs could block traffic simply because they want to. Sounds like a pretty bleak future for the Internet, doesn’t it?
It’s not too late to make your voice heard.
It will take weeks or months for the repeal to go into effect so you won’t see any immediate changes. The political and legal battle has already started, however. Many Democrats are pushing Congress to pass laws in favor of net neutrality, and seventeen Democratic state attorneys general said they are drafting filings to halt the change. Multiple public interest groups, such as the ACLU, Public Knowledge and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, have announced that they’re going to file a suit as well. The Internet Association, a trade group whose members include tech companies like Google and Facebook said that it is also pursuing legal action.
For home users there is a strong possibility that this will result in anti-consumer behavior like pay-to-play deals that allow ISPs to create an Internet fast lane for use by big internet and media companies and wealthy subscribers while the rest of us are denigrated to a slow lane. This would not only affect consumers, but also force businesses to compete on what would no longer be a fair playing field. Online businesses could be forced to pay to have their traffic prioritized or watch as internet giants like Amazon are allocated more bandwidth. Remote workers, including growing numbers of self-employed and freelancers, could be subjected to higher costs for the internet service required to make a living.
What You Can Do
It’s not too late to make your voice heard. The only chance we still have is to urge members of Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to reverse this latest FCC action. We have 60 business days to pressure Congress to act. The future of the Internet is at stake, so please use one of the resources at the bottom of this article to urge Congress to listen to the American people.
Matt Sarrel is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) who has been providing expert security and privacy analysis for almost 20 years. During this time he has advised companies, lawmakers and law enforcement, and published thousands of reviews, articles and reports. He’s also an avid PC and console gamer.