While we at Little Dog Tech typically avoid using our customer facing outlets for political discussion, there is a big issue afoot that we all feel needs to be addressed. This is the issue of Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is something that keeps popping up on internet and broadcast news outlets and has been for the last few years. The topic can be daunting and difficult to understand, especially if you aren’t technologically or internet savvy. The truth is Net Neutrality affects everyone who uses the internet, in ways you may not even realize.
What is Net Neutrality? It is public facing/friendly term for the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to control the content you view or how quickly you can do so and must be required to treat everything on the internet the same as everything else. This concept is sometimes referred to as Internet Freedom or the Open Internet.
Why does this matter? Right now, ISPs (like Centurylink and Mediacom) are not allowed to block websites/content or force you to pay more to prioritize certain websites/services over others. This is made possible because the Internet is currently protected by the FCC as Title II service. This essentially makes the internet a standard public utility like water or power. Just like the water company can’t charge you more for watering your plants than they do if you fill a glass to drink, ISPs cannot charge you more to use Netflix than they do for you to use their own streaming video services. This also means they can’t block or censor content they disagree with. This is a good thing. This means you are getting the internet exactly as websites have intended from your ISP, and nothing you view is being blocked or slowed down by the whims of the ISP.
Why is Net Neutrality at risk and why is everyone suddenly so concerned? To answer this a brief recent precedent is useful. Prior to 2015, the internet was classified as a Title I service. This means that it wasn’t considered a utility and therefore did not fall under the Title II protections. This allowed your ISP to censor content at will, slow down (throttle) websites they didn’t like, and charge more for unnecessary or redundant services. There were many examples of this but one of the most notable is when AT&T deliberately blocked Apple Facetime on their network. They eventually relented and unblocked the service, but not before a fight and only after public outcry. Under current Title II protections, this is not allowed to occur.
In order to prevent this from happening again, talks were initiated in 2014 to reclassify the Internet as Title II. In 2015 both President Obama and the current FCC chairman signed off on the reclassification, officially making it law. However, recently there has been a huge push to re-reclassify the internet back to Title I. A bill (called the “Restoring Internet Freedom” Act) has been proposed and has already been signed off on in the House and Senate. Title I classification would give every ISP in the USA the legal right to control what you can access, and potentially force you to pay more money for the same service you already have.
You may think that competition between ISPs would help prevent this sort of abuse of power. After all, if consumers don’t like the restrictions, they can move to the next one, right? Well, MANY consumers only have one good choice for internet service in the USA so they will get stuck with what they have available. Also, once one ISP starts doing this and sets a new norm, others in the area will most likely follow suit, making restrictions a standard.
If this new bill passes and is ratified the internet could be greatly changed, and most likely not in a good way. For example, Mediacom or any other ISP could decide that they no longer want their customers viewing Netflix because it takes customers away from their own streaming video services. They could legally slow Netflix down until you pay more money or they could simply block it entirely. The same goes for any website or content on the internet. Facebook could become inaccessible unless you pay extra or be available only on a ‘premium tier’. Similarly, other popular websites such as Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube, news outlets, or anything else you view online could be potentially censored or affected. Creating new innovative websites with a very low budget would no longer be viable, and only large established organizations with the ability to front the necessary capital to ‘buy their way in’ to the internet would be able to create new services. This classification change would stifle the very innovation, creativity, and low barrier to entry that has allowed sites like Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and millions of others to start from nothing and grow to be internet powerhouses. What future service or site could we miss out on if this bill becomes law?
In summary, this bill’s name is misleading and in reality will do the opposite of what it suggests. The bill is currently at the end of a 3 month waiting period for public opinion and feedback. This is where the public needs to act, and why we felt the need to spread this information.
The FCC is taking public comment until Monday, July 17th. If you would like to contribute to these comments please go to http://www.battleforthenet.com and send them (and Congress) the provided pre-written letter (or write your own). You will also be given the option to call and speak directly with Congress and the FCC once you have sent them your letter.
https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/open-internet (how things currently are)
https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom (the big bad bill)
Author Credits: Cody A Eckert, Paul Schwegler