Why the Fight for Net Neutrality Can’t Be Over Yet

By |2017-12-26T11:09:31-05:00December 20th, 2017|Opinions, Viewpoints|

Eve Kucharski

Even with the decision to repeal net neutrality on Dec. 14, you probably haven’t seen anything happen to your internet speeds. And you won’t for now. The new rules must be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget and then published into the Federal Register, the official record of the U.S.’s new laws, but consumers might start seeing changes to their internet access as soon as the beginning of 2018.
If you’re wondering how the repeal of net neutrality happened, it first started with the Federal Communications Commission, the organization that regulates interstate and international communications in the entire U.S. and its territories. Last Thursday, the FCC relinquished regulatory control over internet service providers.
Broadband internet was also reclassified as an interstate information service. This means that internet access will no longer be regulated like a utility, and states cannot make their own rules to keep regulations the same around the country. Perhaps most importantly, three previously restricted practices are now legal:
Blocking: Providers can block any legal content, applications or services they choose, meaning that they could potentially discriminate against specific content.
Throttling: Providers have the ability to slow internet speeds when transferring data. This also gives telecommunications companies the ability to discriminate against content they dislike.
Paid Prioritization: Service providers can also create “fast lanes,” or accept premium payments from users to give better internet speeds to those who pay more.
According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a New York Times piece, the FCC is, “helping consumers and promoting competition. Broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”
But this looks doubtful. Providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast now have less oversight, and because the need for reliable internet is necessary, even if they take financial advantage of their customer base, customers who need internet will still purchase it. In fact, telecom companies have been known to violate the conditions of net neutrality before their actions were legal.
For instance, in 2008, Comcast was given a cease-and-desist order after it unlawfully throttled traffic on the file sharing website BitTorrent, or when in 2004, Madison River Communications blocked its landline customers’ access to Vonage and its Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP. The VoIP system turned landline user’s internet connection into an inexpensive phone line, making them a competitor of Madison River Communications. And more recently, in 2012, AT&T blocked Apple’s FaceTime app that allows user to video chat. Unless AT&T customers paid more for a better plan, they couldn’t use the application that comes with each Apple phone.
Perhaps the most telling sign that net neutrality’s repeal has opened a Pandora’s box of charges, is that in places like Portugal, where net neutrality rules have never existed, consumers must pay monthly for “packages” that split access to apps U.S. consumers wouldn’t think twice about using for free, like email, messaging, social media and music.
For people who already struggle to pay bills, this could limit their use of the internet, putting them at a disadvantage to those who can pay for fast lanes. And the financial hit might not only affect individual people, small businesses might not be able to afford the same high-speed internet plans as big businesses.
All these reasons and more result in a need for a continued fight against the repeal of net neutrality. Currently, attorney generals from several states led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have plans set in motion to challenge the FCC’s decision, along with a slew of nonprofits and politicians across the U.S. Locally, Sen. Gary Peters is working to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to attempt to reverse the FCC’s actions. Ideally, the strengths of the presented arguments will be enough to overturn the FCC’s decision in the courts. Because although a decision has been made, it doesn’t mean that the fight is over, or that it should be.
<TAGLINE If you’d like to take action against the FCC’s decision, reach out to your representatives through calls, letters and comments, and continue to stay updated on changes in legislation.>

About the Author:

Eve Kucharski
As news and feature editor at Between The Lines, Eve Kucharski's work has spanned the realms of current events and entertainment. She's chatted with stars like Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho and Tyler Oakley as well as political figures like Gloria Steinem, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel. Her coverage of the November 2018 elections was also featured in a NowThis News report.