Net Neutrality

By: Robert Laine November 13, 2017

I am going to step back for a moment from my usual columns and humor, and get a lot more serious this week. “Net neutrality” affects everyone, regardless of politics and beliefs. It is being hotly debated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress. A House Judiciary Committee subcommittee held a hearing on “net neutrality and the role of antitrust” November 1.

 

The sad thing for me, though, is that most people don’t understand net neutrality or how it affects them.

 

What net neutrality means is that everyone, regardless of politics or beliefs, can have the same speed no matter what websites they visit, or host, or create. If you pay an ISP (Internet Service Provider) $50 a month for a 10gb connection to the internet, you have to get that 10gb connection no matter how you use it.

 

With the elimination of net neutrality, an ISP can say that your website that is teaching people how to knit is a business and therefore you must pay another $2000 per month for the same speed that others get for $50. If you don’t pay, then the ISP can intentionally slow the access speed (known as throttling down) to your site so that all visitors will have a horrible experience. This can be detrimental to small businesses, startups and the average person who wants to earn some extra income through the internet.

 

As an example, Comcast, an ISP, could decide to throttle down Netflix while increasing the speed of its competitor, who would then have an unfair competitive advantage. If you create a political forum website and the ISP doesn’t like what you say, they could throttle down the access speed to your site. This, in my opinion, would be a violation of the First Amendment.

 

Without net neutrality rules, ISPs could prioritize some content over others, throttle down or even block content in favor of their own or sites that they (ISPs) favor. Their motivation would be to get more money from the public for what is widely perceived as a public utility (which, legally, it is not yet). In my opinion, this would become a legal form of extortion without any accountability or oversight by any legal body, such as Congress, the judicial system, or attorneys general.

 

Political commentator Rush Limbaugh has said he doesn’t understand what net neutrality is or all the other computer gibberish, but if Liberals are in favor of it, it must be bad for the country, so he is against it.

 

This is like saying, “I don’t know this particular medical procedure, but just because someone I don’t like says it will save my life, I’m not doing it, even if it will save my life.”

 

Limbaugh also said, “[N]et neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine of the Internet.” Eliminated by the Reagan FCC, the Fairness Doctrine allowed government to decide what content was neutral, and stations could lose their licenses if they were not balanced. Many radio stations instead stayed out of politics, as commentator Frank Miniter noted on Forbes.com in September 2014.

 

Meanwhile, Liberal media supported neutrality as a way back into talk radio.

 

We can look around the world for examples of net neutrality and its impact.

 

Europe by and large has very strict rules regarding net neutrality where an ISP cannot favor one company over an individual, no matter the size. Everyone is equal under the law.

 

China, however, does not have the internet as it exists elsewhere. What they have is “intranet:” a self-contained network with no outside connectivity. This means that anyone within China cannot access Google or e-Bay without permission from the government (rarely given).

 

Every person with a home network  in elsewhere, has an intranet that is linked to the outside world by the internet.

 

Without net neutrality, you don’t get to decide how you want to filter the internet in your home, the ISPs decide for you. This is not representative government deciding, but corporate America.

 

USA Today reported July 19 following a Day of Action during a one-month comment period, that more than nine million people gave input on repealing net neutrality. FCC Chairman (and Trump appointee) Ajit Pai favors the overturn, saying that the rules unfairly burden internet providers and prevent them from investing in broadband in underserved rural areas. But Amazon and three dozen tech CEOs during the comment period called for “strong and enforceable net neutrality rules…that ban blocking, throttling, paid prioritization and other discriminatory practices.”

 

Net neutrality first started becoming partisan in 2010. President Obama asked the FCC to better guarantee net neutrality so that private corporations couldn’t take control of what he believed to be a public utility.

 

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF.org) is a leading nonprofit with lawyers defending digital privacy, free speech and innovation. The EFF said July 17 that “...a group of over 190 Internet engineers, pioneers, and technologists filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission explaining that the FCC’s plan to roll back net neutrality protections is based on a fundamentally flawed and outdated understanding of how the Internet works.” (Full disclosure: I am a subscriber to EFF and a member of the International Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)

 

The EFF also noted in press releases that tech activists used the Day of Action to show corporations that their websites would be slowed without net neutrality.  “EFF’s comments join those of many other user advocates, leading computer engineers, entrepreneurs, faith communities, libraries, educators, tech giants, and start-ups that are fighting for a free and open Internet. Last week those players gave the Internet a taste of what a world without net neutrality would look like by temporarily blocking and throttling their content.”

 

History shows potential repercussions.

 

NSA spying on cell phone and emails was bad, but at least they had to respond in public hearings afterwards. Without net neutrality rules, these actions will be taken out of the hands of the government -- meaning the judicial system -- and be left to the whim of faceless corporate identities. Google, for example, was falsely accused of reading private Gmail accounts in order to sell the information to advertisers; without net neutrality, this practice could become the norm.

 

If the net neutrality argument occurred in the late 19th century when the first telephone poles were being raised, what would have happened to the innovators? Innovation would have halted pending permission from private utilities that answered to no one. We would not have the internet today.

 

It’s only through the government making phone lines a public utility and regulating it that we have the internet today. In the wake of World War II, the Defense Department started the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to ensure the White House and military had a closed loop communications system.

 

The original ARPA towers that eventually became the internet ran alongside railroad rights of way. Some of them remain in the New Mexico desert, where Amtrak guides point them out. 

 

The average user won’t be the only one to suffer without net neutrality, so will anyone with an idea that requires the internet in ANY way to start a business. Anyone who is indigent or homeless would be deemed “undesirable.” Private corporations could throttle down government institutions they disdain, such as public libraries, universities (which gave us the research and development that is the internet today that corporations now control), and charities.

 

Under Donald Trump, the very people who want to destroy internet freedom are being put in charge. The best way to fight this is to call your representatives in Congress and senators constantly. By doing this, they will need to “give the squeaky wheel some oil.”