This morning, the Federal Communications Commission (or FCC) voted for net neutrality repeal. While that sounds bad — and it definitely is — the good news is that all is not lost. We still have time to fight for an open and free internet.
What is net neutrality and why is the net neutrality repeal so scary?
Net neutrality is the idea that your internet service provider (ISP) can’t change their speed on sites they don’t support. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking at The Washington Post or some ultra hardcore porn. Net neutrality dictates that your ISP won’t throttle your speed if you’re looking at the porn or, if your ISP is run by a Trump fan, they can’t block the WaPo.
Without net neutrality, your ISP could block WaPo or make the connection to the site so slow that it becomes unreadable. Or, if your ISP is anti-LGBTQ, they could block or throttle access to our site or any similar to it.
Beyond free speech issues, there’s the possibility of blocking competitors. For example, many ISPs are also cable TV companies. And streaming sites like Netflix are a big reason why cable TV’s influence has gone down significantly over the past decade. So, with a net neutrality repeal, it’s not far-fetched to think that a company like Comcast could throttle Netflix and make their movies unwatchable with constant buffering.
That sounds awful! Who would want a net neutrality repeal?
Very few people. In fact, net neutrality has widespread bipartisan support. But who does want it? ISPs. Without net neutrality, another thing ISPs can do is make more money by charging you extra for the websites and online services you want to access.
This system is already the norm in Portugal. Meo, the Portuguese wireless carrier, offers pricing plans based on what you want to access.
If you want to access social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, that’ll cost you $5.86 per month. If you want to use music apps like Spotify, SoundCloud or Google Play, that’s an additional $5.68 a month. Want to use Skype or FaceTime? That’s another $5.68. Email or cloud services? Add $5.68.
And this gets back to the idea of new online services. Web start-ups won’t always be able afford the cost of being bundled in with a company’s other pre-approved sites and apps. And if they don’t pay up, telecoms shut out new sites and apps by making sure that they receive less bandwidth to run. Without that bandwidth, the apps and sites operate horribly, even if they’re designed better.
Does the FCC’s new net neutrality repeal mean we’re all doomed?
Not necessarily. Thankfully, the fight isn’t over. The FCC’s recommendations still have to be approved by Congress. And, luckily, a number of state attorneys general are planning lawsuits against the FCC. Washington state AG Bob Ferguson wrote:
Yesterday I sent a letter to the FCC asking them to delay their vote gutting net neutrality. Unfortunately, they did not.
Today, I am announcing my intention to file a legal challenge to the FCC’s decision to roll back net neutrality, along with attorneys general across the country.
We are 5-0 against the Trump Administration because they often fail to follow the law when taking executive action. There is a strong legal argument that with this action, the federal government violated the Administrative Procedure Act — again.
We will be filing a petition for review in the coming days.
Is there anything I can to do stop the net neutrality repeal?
Yes! In addition to spreading the word about the fight, call your congresspeople and make your wishes known. There’s also something called the Congressional Review Act, which lets Congress nullify actions by government agencies — and to do this, the CRA only requires a simple majority in the House and Senate.
As in life, be polite, but also be firm if you need to be. And even if you’re in a blue state or you know your representative is on the right side on this issue, still call. If they know this is an important issue to constituents, the harder they’ll fight on your behalf.
Featured image of Ajit Pai courtesy of the FCC