In the past, I have talked about the issue of net neutrality because it is an important issue for me. In fact, it should be an important issue for anyone using the internet because of the wide-reaching implications.
It’s amazing to think that the Internet started as a research project due to Americans fears of Communists from the Soviet Union. But by 1973, it grew from a greater project funded by the United States. From its humble beginnings it grew the Internet as we know it because of scientists and researches across the globe.
Congress first allowed Internet to be used for commercial purposes. But did lawmakers foresee that internet providers would try to monopolize the infrastructure for themselves? In any case, we have far too many lawmakers now who want to facilitate that.
I was first made aware of net neutrality in 2012. And I think that awakening has made me a bigger First Amendment proponent. I hope you’ll understand why.
Anyhow, I have been collecting information about this issue for a few months, especially since the change of power. Many observers know net neutrality would be under fire with Trump in office and we are seeing things play out.
That said there’s a lot to discuss, including what we can do about it.
Table of Contents
- What Net Neutrality Is
- The Players in All This
- FCC News
- Dirty Politics
- The New Sheriff
- Trump’s View of Net Neutrality
- Aji Pai’s Twisted Designs
- Cable Boxes
- Broadband Deregulation
- Lifeline Subsidy Program
- Privacy Protections
- Net Neutrality
- The Effect These Changes Will Have
- The Resistance
- Works Cited
What Net Neutrality Is
Internet Neutrality is the principle of a free and open Internet. It’s hard for me to define, but here is a great definition from Vice’s Motherboard website:
Net neutrality is the principle that all legal internet content and services should be equally accessible to consumers. It means that internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon or AT&T can’t prioritize their own online services or discriminate against rival offerings. It also means they can’t block websites that provide controversial or objectionable viewpoints.
In short, the Internet should allow for the free flow of ideas and discussion. As such, it should be treated like a utility, much like phone and cable service are.
Also, a free and open Internet means is runs quickly and smoothly.
This idea makes perfect sense because the Internet is a communication tool and it’s far more versatile and integral to businesses in this day and age. A restricted Internet could mean the death of businesses, among other important things.
Most businesses are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But media networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and traditional radio networks have to answer to the FCC.
Telecommunication companies are regulated by the FCC for the services they provide, like offering phone, cable/satellite, and Internet access, since these companies need an FCC license in order to offer these services. The FCC has broad jurisdiction over telecom transactions; the Justice Department and the FTC can oversee certain telecom transactions, although in a very limited capacity.
With that understood, how has the issue of net neutrality been addressed in the United States?
In my Things I Don’t Like About Television series, I addressed the issue of net neutrality in Episode 36. There, I mentioned how companies were trying to control the Internet. That naturally led to a short discussion of SOPA and PIPA, a pair of 2012 bills drafted in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively:
The bills were heinous because of their implications. Not only could ISP’s block websites, but those websites could also have their funding blocked. Credit card companies would be blocked from cooperating with entire websites even if only one part of it was in violation of the law. This would effectively blacklist the sites. And there was of course the possibility that ISP’s would abuse the law.
Finally, since cable providers may even provide internet services, they can decide whether customers view certain streaming sites. The increased use of streaming services like Netflix — and any other startup like it — should be watched closely.
I also mentioned the issue of Internet speeds:
In 2014, the issue was more about ISP’s controlling service speeds. They wanted to have separate speeds and have consumers pay for higher speeds. This already affected streaming sites like Netflix as they were being throttled by ISP’s. Any other startup company like that would like to improve on Netflix’s streaming model would be in danger, too.
Additionally, I mentioned how Tom Wheeler, a former telecommunications insider, became a hero of open internet advocates. He set rules to establish net neutrality and he admitted that there was little, if any, competition with ISP’s. He also blocked the merger between Comcast and Time Warner.
Now, despite that, I admitted the fight was far from over …
The Players in All This
Like I mentioned before, the main players in this are the telecommunications companies. This includes AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., and Verizon Communications Inc. These companies would like to control the Internet and restrict access based on the ability of individuals and businesses to pay higher prices. There may also be something even more sinister prospect at play, which I will get into in another section.
The Federal Communications Commissions of course is a player in this arena because of the oversight it has over the telecom companies. Unfortunately, the agency was compromised even before Obama left office.
Other cable companies are interested in net neutrality and other issues overseen by the FCC.
Ad companies have a vested interest in FCC proceedings, as well.
Additionally, a number of civil rights groups are involved, but they’re in favor of the telecom companies that subsidized them. From The Intercept:
In a little-noticed joint letter released last week, the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, OCA (formerly known as the Organization for Chinese Americans), the National Urban League, and other civil rights organizations sharply criticized the “jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC” — a reference to the legal mechanism used by the Obama administration to accomplish net neutrality.
Congress is a player in this area because of the oversight it has over the FCC.
As a result, the Federal Trade Commission has been made a potential player in this because of the rules the new FCC chairman and congressional Republicans want to pass to finally get rid of net neutrality once and for all.
Much has changed since I last discussed this issue. In particular, there is no leadership.
In the U.S. Senate, a number of confirmations were delayed, including that of Merrick Garland’s. But one in particular ultimately tipped the balance of the Federal Commissions Commission.
In 2014, the Senate confirmed FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican. Based on an agreement, the Democrats would allow his confirmation move along with the understanding Jessical Rosenworcel, a Democrat, would be confirmed when it came time for it. (Typically, a Democratic FCC commissioner is paired with a Republican commissioner around the same time.)
However, according to former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the Republicans — namely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — did not hold up their end of the bargain. As a result, Rosenworcel’s tenure there was set to expire at the end of 2016.
By December, the Republicans said they wanted then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to step down from his post. Wheeler offered to do so only to guarantee Jessica Rosenworcel’s confirmation to the FCC. However, the Republicans expressed the desire to keep Rosenworcel’s seat open in order to allow Trump to name a new (Republican) FCC Commissioner. This was confirmed by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
Rosenworcel was forced to step down from her post as commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission since Congress failed to confirm her before the last legislative session of 2016 ended. That left the FCC with two Democratic members, Tom Wheeler and Mignon Clyburn.
Also in December 2016, it was announced that a member already on the FCC board would be named the next commissioner. Then, only two Republicans were on the board, Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly. Pai was the likely choice since he was on the board longer.
Pai was made the chairman of the FCC in January. In March, Pai was nominated by Trump to serve a new five-year term. Tom Wheeler has since left the FCC, leaving Clyburn as the only Democrat on the commission.
The New Sheriff
New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made it no secret that he opposes net neutrality. He may say he supports a free and open Internet but fiercely opposed the 2015 Open Internet Order. He has since worked to undermine every aspect of Net Neutrality.
As a former Verizon Lawyer, Pai has connections with at least one big ISP in opposition to net neutrality and he is more than willing to do the bidding of Donald Trump. So far, Pai’s rhetoric has been in line with industry insiders and congressional Republicans who have been funded by the telecommunications industry.
For example, here is a statement made by Marsha Blackburn when the Republicans were getting ready to strip us of our online privacy protections:
The FCC’s decision last October to unilaterally swipe jurisdiction from the FTC by creating its own privacy rules for ISPs was troubling. The FTC has been our government’s sole online privacy regulator for over twenty years. A dual-regulatory approach will only serve to create confusion within the Internet eco-system and harm consumers.
Like Blackburn, Pai argues the changes he wants to make will help consumers while freeing businesses from “harsh” regulations. They also tend to call the 2015 FCC rules “government overreach.” Absolute BS.
Trump’s View of Net Neutrality
Trump himself is largely ignorant on the subject but he has long made it clear he also opposes net neutrality. While he was on the campaign trail, he said little about net neutrality or anything connected to the telecom industry. Years before, he expressed his opposition to the principle.
On November 12, 2014, Trump tweeted:
Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.
(The Fairness Doctrine is a now-defunct rule that guaranteed that opposing viewpoints on important subjects received equal airtime.)
In another instance, Trump’s campaign claimed internet neutrality would the United Nations control over the Internet.
As president, Trump made sure to promote Pai because of Pai’s opposition to a free and open Internet. Trump also has this petty desire to undo all of Obama’s legacy.
Some people might not like how harsh I’m being right now, but you know what? I didn’t vote for this clown.
Ajit Pai’s Twisted Designs
What has Pai done so far as FCC commissioner? He has already done quite a bit of damage, although he needs even more help from the Republican-led Congress.
So far, Pai has attacked:
- Competition for cable boxes;
- An inquiry into zero-rating;
- Broadband regulations that guaranteed price caps;
- The FCC’s Lifeline subsidy program, and;
- Internet privacy protections that would be imposed on ISP’s.
Last week, Pai announced he would go after net neutrality next.
After being lobbied by 19 Republican lawmakers (including Rep. Marsha Blackburn), Pai rejected a proposal to allow for more competition for the cable box market.
If cable boxes weren’t foisted upon cable customers, they would be able to stream more programs on their mobile devices and other devices connected to the Internet. As it stands, people who pay for cable must also pay to use cable boxes. They might be able to take advantage of extra services via their mobile devices, but they must first have a cable subscription.
Consumer advocates argue this stipulation ends up costing Americans $20 billion a year. And Pai wants us to believe he’s for the consumer.
Somewhat connected to the cable box issue is the establishment of zero-rating programs. Zero-rating is a practice that involves telecom companies offering specific streaming services as data-cap exemptions.
Most mobile phone plans come with monthly data caps. But services, like Verizon’s NFL-streaming service, don’t count against the month data usage.
This is controversial because zero-rating involves phone companies offering exclusive programs by making exclusive deals with third parties. That means consumers can be blocked from enjoying products and services that should be available for more customers to use regardless of their carrier.
Without explanation, Pai ended the FCC’s inquiry into zero-rating.
On Thursday, April 20, the FCC voted to approve a plan to deregulate the market for business-to-business broadband. The $45 billion market, also known as Business Data Services (BDS), was regulated by price caps that helped to protect hospitals, libraries, schools, and small businesses from predatory ISP’s.
Pai argued this change was fair as long as there was an “appropriate level of competition” in all areas, as long as there was a second ISP within a half-mile.
3. Appropriate Level of Competition
4. Upon examining the structure of the business data services industry and the record before us, we find that a combination of either one competitive provider with a network within a half mile from a location served by an incumbent LEC or a cable operator’s facilities in the same census block as a location with demand will provide competitive restraint on the incumbent LEC that will be more effective than our legacy regulatory regime in ensuring rates, terms, and conditions are just and reasonable.319 Our conclusion that a “nearby BDS competitor” provides sufficient competition to forgo regulation of an incumbent LEC’s provision of BDS is based on three findings: (1) a determination of the geographic scope within which a likely BDS provider can realistically compete with an incumbent LEC; (2) a finding that one such competitor in addition to the incumbent LEC provides a reasonable degree of competition in BDS supply; and (3) a finding that the benefits of such competition outweigh the potential unintended costs of regulation.
Lifeline Subsidy Program
Every month, the Lifeline subsidy program allows poor residents to take $9.25 off their monthly phone bills. It costs $2 billion a year and has been in effect since 1985. In early February, Pai ended the program for 9 out of 900 telecom companies. Pai defended this position in a blog post on Medium, but this decision leaves those companies in limbo.
In October 2016, the Federal Communications Commission approved rules to protect internet users’ privacy. Under the rules, Internet service providers would need to get users’ consent before using information like a person’s “precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing.” Additionally, ISP’s would have to inform users of the types of information they collect and share.
The rules would have gone into full effect in the first quarter of this year. Most of the regulations were in effect in a limited fashion in January. Starting on March 2, 2017, ISP’s would be required to “engage in reasonable security practices.”
Pai had been vocal about his opposition to the rules, arguing that they favored companies like Facebook Inc. and Alphabet (the parent company of Google). Those companies are under the jurisdiction of FTC privacy laws, which are fairly weak, and they are allowed to sell user information for targeted advertising. Pai said he wanted ISP’s to be subject to FTC rules, but it required an FCC vote to kick off a long, complicated process.
So on March 1, 2017, the FCC voted to postpone the rules from taking place. The rest required an assist by Congress, which happily obliged.
Congress passed legislation to effectively kill American’s privacy protections. On March 28, 2017, the House of Representatives voted 215-205 to repeal the privacy regulations approved by the FCC. The week before, the Senate approved the repeal by a 50-48 vote that was largely along party lines. Trump eventually signed the legislation.
Last week, the FCC announced it would vote on the issue of giving the FTC broadband regulatory authority.
What does mean for net neutrality?
It could effectively kill it. The FTC is understaffed and underfunded. Currently, there are only 2 commissioners there when there should be seven. And as the privacy laws are pretty weak, so would be the regulation of broadband practices.
If unchallenged, ISP’s would then do whatever they want with their Internet service. They could throttle certain websites or even competitors, like Netflix.
The Disastrous Effects These Changes Will Have
The deregulation of internet service could lead to all sorts of evil, but all roads stem from one effect: The ability to curtail speech.
Violating the First Amendment
If the internet service is deregulated, and thus completely privatized, it could give companies the ability to curtail First Amendment protections.
What I Immediately Think Of
When you look at the media companies donating to political campaigns, you can get a hint of how this might play out.
Don’t believe me? Look up some American members of Congress — or any American politician — and Google “Politician X negative coverage.” You might find studies that look at the negative coverage some people receive.
Look at past political campaigns and see how candidates were treated by the media. Which ones receive the most positive and negative coverage and why? Is the positive or negative coverage based in truth?
Look at companies like Twitter, Google. How is dissenting opinion treated by each?
Look at cable networks. How were TV hosts with dissenting opinion treated over the years? Who was fired and why?
What you may find is a media bias. Even worse, you may find a concerted effort to shut down dissent.
Now, apply all of that to the Internet. If it is treated like a privatized commodity, companies will feel free to block or limit the access of websites — even this blog or YOUR blog — for exposing unpopular opinions. We might not make death threats or support illegal activities, but we might be punished for simply criticizing politicians or companies.
It’s basically shutting down free speech. Such a thing would be unconstitutional and un-American.
Walling off Information
If governments and companies don’t like what people are saying and sharing, those people can be cut off from their audiences.
For example, independent news sites could be shut down for sharing unflattering information about those governments and companies, even if that information is real and legally obtained.
When you consider who is in the White House — and at his Florida resort every weekend — the First Amendment is in real jeopardy. On the campaign trail, Trump said he wanted to upon up libel laws to go after members of the press. When the “golden showers” dossier made the news earlier this year, he began to call outlets like CNN “fake news” and insisted that people believe him and him only (even though he is a compulsive liar). Later on, Trump called the press the “enemy of the American people.”
When his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was asked about that statement, Priebus did not even deny Trump’s team was looking at a way to severely limit the freedom of the press, among other things.
Shutting Down Protests
This can translate into real-world free speech.
For one thing, we already know the government can order records of users’ web browser histories. If so, Uncle Sam can call for strict the monitoring of people’s search habits and connection to activism. This has already been done by some police departments who wanted to go after people “checking in” on Facebook to show solidarity with water protectors at Standing Rock.
As pointed out in a March post by Malkia Cyril and Joseph Torres, the Internet is a critical tool in organizing protests. Since the Internet allows us to communicate with each other instantly, it thus allows events to be organized quickly and efficiently. Think of the number of protests that have been organized this year alone. If the Internet is limited in a significant way, it will cripple activists attuned to organizing cross-country.
It can also cripple efforts to quickly inform people about developing legislation and other government action that can negatively impact Americans.
Invading People’s Privacy
If internet service providers can sell people’s browsing histories, what’s to stop them from selling it to other countries, stalkers, or places of employment?
Another concern is who the ISP’s can give away crucial information like Social Security Numbers and even phone cards. Now, they would be allowed to sell that information to the highest bidder.
The SSN is an immediate breach of security. Of course, it could lead to thieves stealing one’s identity. That can affect someone’s credit rating and possible lead to their wrongful arrest.
The phone card is also a security issue. Do you have two-step verification? With someone else’s phone card, some malignant jerk could hack into someone’s online profiles and email and steal them. Companies were already giving this information away for free.
If people have limited access to the internet, they will be less likely to find new ways to create and share their products. They may also be less likely to improve on technologies that make navigating the Internet easier for users.
This also involves free speech to a degree (given what I said above) but it mostly involves commerce.
As a result, fewer people may be able to make money off the internet.
Robbing People of Their Livelihood
For nearly 20 years, people have looked to the Internet as a basis for business. They have been met with varying levels of success (and a lot of failure), but many have developed sound business model and enjoyed sustained success.
There are many companies that are based online and have virtual staffs. If they have and their customers have limited Internet access, their businesses are all but dead.
Telecom companies might not stop there. They may even put pressure on search engines to bury search results or to delete links to site entirely, even if those sites are not in violation of any laws. That could have an immediate impact on an online company’s bottom line, as well. If people cannot find one’s website in a search, they simple won’t go there.
To make things even worse, some websites might be blocked in regions or within the entire United States.
When you look at some of the past stories I covered on this blog, it feels like it’s all leading the something. This year, also I covered fake news, my proposed Internet rules, and the YouTube Ad Crisis. Each time I expressed concern that any false moves would shut down free speech.
As a bonus, I also talked about how many local news outlets had the same messages across states. It was creepy, but it lends to this topic, as well.
Now, with fake news, I am particularly leery. What would be considered “fake news” by the government and what would be done about it? Even though I have problems with the press, it should not be tightly controlled by the government.
On YouTube: Even as some ads are coming back to channels that were hit, they are reporting lower revenue overall. At the same time, the bigger channels — meaning those run by large media corporations, some of which are owned by telecom companies — are largely unaffected.
There is this war going on between old media and new media. And I suspect all of these companies will band together with a corrupt government to promote propaganda across channels and push out dissenting opinions. We cannot let this happen.
As things are now, there are basically two avenues to go with this. While it is extremely difficult for people to move away from their internet service providers, they can move on from bad lawmakers and put pressure on Ajit Pai.
Dealing with the Lawmakers
I went over the The Verge and screencapped lists with of all the names of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress who voted to repeal privacy protections. The list also shows how much these lawmakers received from telecom companies in the past election cycle:
Take a good look. Every single one of them must go. Period.
Dealing with Pai
As we have seen with the growing resentment against the bad health care bills and Jeff Sessions’ attempt to crack down on marijuana, American citizens might be able to fight Pai through protest.
Additionally, American protestors eventually got through to Pai’s predecessor, Tom Wheeler. At one point, activists even went to his home and delayed him that day.
Wheeler eventually came out in favor of net neutrality and still holds that position today.
I don’t know if anyone needs to (or should) go to Pai’s home, but we need to make sure he knows full well his changes are unwanted and unwarranted. To that end, I’m putting up that guy’s FCC phone number and email.
Now, if you contact him, make sure to be nice and cordial. But he must know what he’s doing should not be tolerated or excused.
As you can see, the changes the Republicans (sorry, but they’re all Republicans) want to make would be dangerous for individuals and devastating for businesses. These “public servants” have been heavily financed by the telecom industry, but they are adamantly pushing through changes that most Americans do not want and did not ask for. It’s as if these guys want to be thrown out on their butts.
For the sake of having a free and open Internet, we cannot let this stand. We must fight for net neutrality and send a clear message to the people who want to destroy it.
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