Aaron R. Davis
You may have heard about this, but the courts struck down net neutrality. Net neutrality, or the Open Internet, is the idea that everyone should have equal access to the web. It was struck down on a technicality in a lawsuit brought against the FCC by Verizon.
Net neutrality is one of the things that makes the Internet work. It means websites like Amazon and Walmart.com can’t pay so their sites load faster than smaller e-commerce sites to have a competitive advantage. It also means that even though ISPs can slow down their networks at peak times, they can’t throttle sites like Netflix or block applications like BitTorrent if they think those things are using up a lot of bandwidth. It’s the democratization of the Internet: every site and application is on the same playing field.
What’s the advantage of stifling the Internet? Well, money, of course.
A big ISP like Comcast or Time Warner or Verizon, free of the rules of an Open Internet, can come up with whole new pricing schemes for their customers and for websites. The Internet then becomes a corporate-run structure where you could be forced to pay more for better access. And believe me, they’re going to do it. In some cases, they already have. I recently went to my cable provider to pay my monthly bill, and I heard one of the people behind the counter giving a spiel to a new customer about their pricing structure for various levels of broadband access, which leads me to believe these pricing structures have been in place for a long time and the company was just waiting for the FCC to lose in court. (And the FCC does still have the right of appeal, so this is potentially illegal right now.)
So I hope you can afford the new service rates for fast, unfiltered access to the Internet. And I’m not saying that ISPs are going to focus most of their network infrastructure maintenance in more affluent areas, I’m just saying that thought has almost definitely occurred to someone in a boardroom somewhere. Are you one of the many who live month to month and always pay the past due portion of your bill because you can’t afford to just pay it off every month? Enjoy your slow and choppy Internet. At least until your ISP figures out how to send you to prison for being past due.
These same companies can also give themselves and their programs an access advantage by slowing down other services. Many customers have reported online that their Netflix has been slow or at the very least the quality has suddenly worsened, with Verizon and Comcast in some cases all but admitting that they’re throttling access. Of course Netflix is a target; it’s a third of all broadband traffic in America. But hey, I’m sure Xfinity comes in nice and clear, so why not just let go of Netflix?
Boy, how long before you can buy merchandise directly on the ISP home pages rather than spending your money elsewhere?
And let’s not even get into the rage-inducing implications of someone being able to throttle or outright block content that doesn’t line up with a corporation’s political views.
The thing that bothers me the most about this is that a lot of people seem to either not mind or not care.
See, it doesn’t surprise me that this is an issue completely split along party lines. Democrats feel that the rules of net neutrality provide recourse to customers who don’t have a lot of choice in telecom providers. Republicans, well … if there’s money to be made, they don’t care what the rules are, they need to be changed, and the market will magically regulate bad behavior, as it has never done in hundreds of thousands of years. (Also: the market is a manmade thing, not some kind of natural force.) If there’s more money to nickel-and-dime out of consumers, they will do it until we’re all bled of any cash and then they’ll put us in jail for not having the money to pay for their services.
But in the days following the court decision, I was one of a number of people working to get the word out and to promote a WhiteHouse.gov petition to restore net neutrality. The petition went up on January 14. And the signature threshold — the amount of signatures necessary for an official White House response — went up to 100,000 within 30 days on January 16.
And why? Because you assholes think you’re hilarious. Look, it was kind of cute when the White House had to respond to the viability of constructing a Death Star. But since people want to ruin everything by making it ridiculous, including our First Amendment right to petition the government, they just kept on coming. So, since literally the only thing nerds take seriously is whether or not Han shot first, the White House was forced to raise the signature threshold from 5,000 to 25,000, and finally 100,000. It took almost a full month to get to 100,000 signatures. It took only a few days to get 100,000 signatures to force the White House to comment on whether Justin Bieber should be deported, because, you know, he’s kind of annoying.
America cares more about Justin Bieber’s antics than about their Internet being slowed down so corporations can make more money.
Yes, Justin Bieber is irritating. I get it. I hate the little fucker. But since his cumulative effect on my life is absolute zero and the Internet is something we all use every day, maybe we could have this discussion on how Internet service should be classified, instead. (The answer: a utility. Imagine if we distributed electricity or heat the same way ISPs want to distribute the Internet. Some countries do.)
The White House says it remains committed to an Open Internet, but since the FCC is an independent regulatory commission, they can’t just executive order this thing. The FCC is looking into what it can do, and there may be a huge legal battle ahead to reclassify Internet services. Some Democrats have introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act, but who knows? The Republicans remain deeply committed to corporatizing everything and shutting down the government when they don’t get their way.
Maybe keeping them from regulating our main source of information for profit is just a little more important than bitching about some singing jackass who you care way too much about. Ignore the little dipshit.
You probably won’t see him much after your ISP starts slowing down your service, anyway.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.