BY KRAIG PIERCE
Elon Musk calls the internet the, “Nervous system of Humanity,” and this is not wrong. The United States is reliant on the internet for almost everything, and it is responsible for much of our technological revolution. One of the defining features of the internet is its being “neutral,” meaning it is open and fair for anybody that needs it. This is the definition of what is now commonly referred to as “Net Neutrality.” Unfortunately, there are people in places of power that are trying to take the neutrality out of the internet, changing it in their favor and affecting the quality of service that we receive and putting more money into the pockets of those we already pay. On Thursday, December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission is going to vote to repeal Net Neutrality, potentially changing the way we know the internet.
Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) are the businesses that you pay for your internet. AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast are the bigger ISP’s in the nation and have been working to get the Federal Communications Commission to change their classifying ISP’s as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Being classified as common carriers under Title II allowed the FCC to pass the “Open Internet Order,” which forbid ISP’s from doing many things. Section 8.5 of the order states that ISP’s, “shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.” On the same note, section 8.7 ensures that ISP’s, “shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management.” These rules ensure that ISP’s cannot block or throttle the speed of websites or services, and give faster speeds to those who pay, which is known as “Paid Prioritization.”
These rules have not stopped ISP’s from trying to block or throttle services and applications, however. One example this took place 2011 when it was revealed that Verizon was blocking the Google Wallet app on their phones, requiring Verizon clients to use the unfortunately named ISIS (later known as Softcard) wallet app, in which they had a joint stake in along with AT&T and T-Mobile. Similarly, in 2012, AT&T revealed that it would disable the video chat function on Apple’s text-and-voice app, Facetime, on its cellular network. Facetime remained available the App Store, but the video chat feature could not be used when connected to WiFi unless the user subscribed to one of AT&T’s more expensive text-and-voice plans.
ISP’s attempts to guide technological advancements in their favor should serve as a warning for what is to come if Net Neutrality is repealed. ISP’s, however, claim that the rules set forth by the FCC hinder the internet in a number of ways. FCC chairman (and former Verizon lawyer) Ajit Pai, has made several claims about the benefits of repealing Net Neutrality. He claims that the repeal of paid prioritization would, “make it easier for consumers to benefit from services that need prioritization—such as latency-sensitive telemedicine.” He also claims that the Open Internet Order discourages investment, but its repeal would encourage investors to push money into making the internet better for everyone.
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Though there has to be another side of every argument, every claim given by Pai and his constituents are unsubstantiated or, in fact, straight up false. In a letter to the FCC, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated, “AAP is opposed to the implementation of paid prioritization because of its detrimental effects on the elimination of health disparities, efficiency of healthcare, and access to health information by parents and caregivers. If healthcare providers do not have the financial resources necessary to purchase priority Internet access, they may not be able to provide the efficacious, patient-centered, cost-effective care recommended as part of the ongoing transformation and reform of our nation’s healthcare system.”
Also, in regard to Net Neutrality hindering investments, writers for Business Insider and The Free Press have looked over data from USTelecom (which the FCC cites as proof of investment decline), and have found a number of oversights that make Pai’s claims false.
Now that the other side of the argument is presented, and a look at what ISP’s were willing to do prior and during Net Neutrality’s implementation, we can take the information and make an educated guess at what we have to look forward to if Net Neutrality is repealed. Since many ISP’s have a history of providing cable packages, it is a popular theory among professionals and internet researchers that ISP’s will implement paid prioritization packages that resemble cable packages. For instance, for a $10 per month charge, you will be able to purchase the “Social package”, which will give you fast access to social media websites, and an additional $5 per month, you can purchase the “News package”.
ISP’s, such as Comcast, has promised that they will not implement paid-prioritization if Net Neutrality is repealed. Comcast tweeted on November 22nd of this year, “We do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content. We will continue to make sure that our policies are clear and transparent for consumers, and we will not change our commitment to these principles.”
However, this tweet was erased sometime later, with the companies Open Internet commitment policy being the only current statement we have to go by. This commitment states, “We do not block, slow down or discriminate against lawful content.” This does not say anything about NOT engaging in paid prioritization, but instead could guarantee that everyone will have the opportunity to pay for their plans.
The vote to repeal Net Neutrality is coming up quickly. Those in favor of Net Neutrality have been calling/emailing their congresspeople, sharing links on social media, and even protesting outside of Verizon stores and other ISP locations. Whether these tactics will sway the FCC’s position is yet to be seen, but the FCC will have a lot to answer for if the internet becomes a hostage to ISP’s and their anti-consumer tactics.