San Francisco Chronicle – “The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations that guaranteed equal access to the Internet, a controversial reversal that drew swift rebuke by companies and politicians in the Bay Area, where many advocates for the rules said they counted on them to protect Internet users and foster the growth of startups. The FCC’s 3-2 decision, with the panel’s Republican members outvoting its Democrats, was hailed by big Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast.”
The attempts to repeal net neutrality haven’t been in the public eye as much as I would have expected and I think a lot of that has to do with most people not understanding what that actually means. For instance, I imagine the internet a a beautiful unicorn, completely free of restraints, bringing porn and viral videos to people around the world.
As pleasant as that mental image may be, the reality is that the internet is a commodity that was previously made available, in its entirety to anyone that could get access. The fear is that after the FCC repeal, there will be no government oversight that keeps ISP providers from showing favoritism to the companies that pay them the most. That scenario would obviously be problematic for startup companies trying to disrupt an already established industry. All a major company need do is pay their internet providers to feature their content and drown out any competition. Companies like Dollar Shave Club and Me Undies might not have existed had they been dreamt up in the post-net neutrality era.
Just a few minutes after I received the alert that the FCC had voted 3-2 (along party lines) to repeal net neutrality, I received an email from State Senator Scott Weiner that explained why we should be concerned about this change and what it means going forward:
“Today the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality — a terrible step for the future of a free and open internet and for our democracy. In January when the State Legislature reconvenes, I will introduce legislation to require net neutrality in California.
Net neutrality is essential to our 21st century democracy, and we need to ensure people can access websites and information freely and fairly. Under President Obama, the FCC adopted a requirement for internet service providers to treat websites equally and not to play favorites based on who pays more. The rule prevented “throttling” of websites and helped ensure an open internet.
By repealing net neutrality requirements, the Trump-controlled FCC is allowing internet service providers to decide which websites will be easily accessible and which won’t. Providers are now free to manipulate web traffic on their networks, which means they can speed or slow traffic to certain sites and even block access.
Particularly in this authoritarian age — with constant attacks from Washington on our democratic values and the free press — we must have a free and open internet. Our democracy depends on it. We can’t have an Internet that favors access for those who pay to boost their web traffic or, worse, that blocks websites because they aren’t willing to shell out money. That is not what our our democracy is about, and it shouldn’t be how our internet works.”