(Related to Video 1—“Net Neutrality Repeal: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Internet Providers React”):
“The End of Net Neutrality: What It All Means”
According to the article, the fight for the future of the internet just came to a head.
The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted December 14, 2017 to repeal Obama-era net neutrality protections. The repeal passed along a party-line vote.
Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by President Trump, has framed the repeal as getting the government to “stop micromanaging the internet.”
The move is supported by the telecom industry, which claims existing regulations threaten to hamper broadband investments and innovation.
Technology companies and consumer advocacy groups have loudly protested the repeal effort for months, both online and offline, arguing it could spell the end of the internet as we know it.
Here’s what it all means and what’s really at stake.
What Exactly Is Net Neutrality?
The net neutrality rules were approved by the FCC in 2015 amid an outpouring of online support. The intention was to keep the internet open and fair.
Under the rules, internet service providers are required to treat all online content the same. They can’t deliberately speed up or slow down traffic from specific websites or apps, nor can they put their own content at an advantage over rivals.
To take a classic example, this means Comcast can’t just choose to slow down a service like Netflix (NFLX) to make its own streaming video service more competitive, nor can it try to squeeze Netflix to pay more money to be part of a so-called internet fast lane.
As Michael Cheah, general counsel at video site Vimeo, previously told the media: the point of the rules is “allowing consumers to pick the winners and losers and not [having] the cable companies make those decisions for them.”
Why Is Net Neutrality Such A Big Deal?
If there’s one thing that both sides can agree on, it’s that the internet is increasingly central to our lives. Any change to how it’s regulated is a hot button issue. (Remember the uproar over repealing internet privacy protections earlier this year?)
“Everyone uses the internet and everyone uses these tech platforms,” Michelle Connolly, a former FCC official who supports Pai, previously told the media. “So issues that are coming up right now, people are seeing from a very personal perspective.”
So How Will Internet Providers Be Regulated?
The FCC is doing away with rules barring internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to online content. The FCC would also eliminate a rule barring providers from prioritizing their own content.
In the absence of a firm ban on these actions, providers will be required to publicly disclose any instance of blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. It will then be evaluated based on whether or not the activity is anti-competitive.
As part of this shift, oversight of internet protections will shift from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission.
Maureen K. Ohlhausen, the acting head of the FTC, said in a statement Monday that the agency is “committed to ensuring that Internet service providers live up to the promises they make to consumers.”
But consumer advocacy groups are less than optimistic.
“Not only is the FCC eliminating basic net neutrality rules, but it’s joining forces with the FTC to say it will only act when a broadband provider is deceiving the public,” Chris Lewis, VP at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that focuses on the open internet, said in a statement this week. “This gives free reign to broadband providers to block or throttle your broadband service as long as they inform you of it.”
And How Will Repealing Net Neutrality Affect Me?
First, it’s important to say what won’t happen: Billion-dollar services like Netflix are not going to disappear overnight without net neutrality. They have large enough audiences and bank accounts to survive in a changing regulatory landscape.
Instead, net neutrality advocates worry how repeal will impact the next Netflix. Upstart companies may struggle to strike deals with providers and pay up to have their content delivered faster. That could fundamentally alter the future internet landscape.
The repeal could change how customers are billed for services, both for good and bad. T-Mobile, for example, was criticized by net neutrality supporters for effectively making it cheaper for customers to stream videos from Netflix and HBO, putting other video services at a disadvantage.
Without net neutrality, internet providers may pursue similar offers more aggressively, which would likely be viewed as a positive by consumers looking to save money on their streaming media.
Yet, some fear it’s also possible internet providers will one day begin charging customers more to access services like Netflix that are currently included as part of your monthly bill.
So Is This A Done Deal?
Not quite. It’s very like this issue could end up being decided in court, or perhaps even by legislation in Congress.
“Whenever we do anything big and major, people go to court,” a senior FCC official said last month. “I certainly would not rule that out.”
Note: In addition to the article, please see the accompanying video also included at the above-referenced internet address. Please use this article and its accompanying video as supplemental material in your coverage of Video 1.
(Related to Video 1–—“Net Neutrality Repeal: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Internet Providers React”):
“The FCC Has Created an ‘Internet for the Elite’”
On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to roll back the rules that uphold net neutrality — the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) must allow equal access to web content, regardless of the source.
While some on the FCC argue that the decision will boost economic growth, the only thing we know for certain is that eliminating net neutrality will make internet service look a lot more like cable TV. That’s good for a handful of corporations, but bad for just about everyone else.
There’s a reason why most Americans despise the cable company. In recent years, Comcast, Dish Network and other consumer telecom giants have ranked near dead last in the Harris Reputation Quotient poll, the gold-standard favorability ratings for the nation’s most visible companies.
The problem isn’t just the unauthorized account charges or repair technicians showing up outside the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. service window. The problem is the underlying structure of the business model.
Cable providers exert too much power over consumers by deciding what content they can and can’t access according to inscrutable and unpredictable pricing schemes.
While these corporations are supposed to serve the function of a public utility, they clearly exist to serve the interests of their elite shareholders and executives — pursuing lax regulations and maximum profit rather than transparency or consumer choice.
So why is the FCC trying to export the flawed and unpopular cable TV business architecture to the realm of internet service? The short answer is that corporate interests are using their extensive influence to promote an “internet for the elites.”
For all the legal debates about net neutrality, the issue is actually simple. Rather than accessing internet content as you see fit, you might have to purchase bundles of services and sites set by the opaque decisions of unaccountable for-profit firms.
Imagine, for example, that you’re surfing online, and someone sends you a link to a hilarious cat video. When you click on it, you get a message from your internet provider: “We’re sorry, but you don’t have access to Web Video Service. Would you like to add it to your plan for $9.99 a month?”
In Portugal, where there are currently no net neutrality rules enforced, this kind of data privileging is already the norm. ISPs there sell plans to access select bundles of websites; others can be accessed only at slow speeds or for additional money.
Slower or selective internet access might sound like a “first world problem” — a mere inconvenience in the scheme of what the country is facing today. But there’s more than convenience at stake. The net neutrality question has important implications for the structure of our economy and society.
Today’s telecoms are engaging in a high-tech version of the “vertical monopolies” — or fully consolidated supply chains — that Teddy Roosevelt and other trustbusters fought more than a century ago. Increasingly, the owners of internet infrastructure are buying up internet content too — think Comcast acquiring NBC and BuzzFeed, or Verizon buying Huffington Post and Yahoo.
In the post-neutrality Wild West, there’s little keeping these companies from acting to privilege content from their own subsidiaries or even deny access to competitors’ services. This isn’t a paranoid pipe dream; consider Verizon’s attempts to block Google Wallet.
Similarly, in a post-neutrality era, ISPs could become gatekeepers for online content and services, requiring companies to fork over cash to ensure their sites are accessible at prime speeds. This would create huge new advantages for the biggest entrenched companies relative to the scrappy young start-ups fueling innovation.
Or consider an overtly political scenario. In a rural area with little or no competition among providers, it’s conceivable that a politically-motivated billionaire — on the left or the right — could buy up the ISP and limit access to information sources that don’t align with his or her point of view.
The FCC’s proposal, which goes to extreme lengths in handicapping regulators, could make this possible.
I’ve devoted my career to internet technology, including co-founding the open source software community Mozilla, because I believe in the promise of a web that is open, equitable and accessible to all. The internet is supposed to be an effective counterpoint to concentrated elite power.
Even as our society has grown more partisan in recent decades, this vision of the internet has, refreshingly, transcended party and ideology. That’s why it’s not only progressive groups fighting to save net neutrality but also social conservatives, libertarians and business groups.
In a major poll during the last round of FCC deliberations, 83% of self-described “very conservative” voters were concerned about the specter of ISPs gaining power to “influence content” online.
Similarly, large majorities of conservatives believed Congress should make sure that cable companies don’t “monopolize the internet” or “reduce the inherent equality of the internet” through differential pricing.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai is trying to make the end of net neutrality look like a fait accompli. He believes he cannot only undermine sensible federal rules but also pre-empt states from taking prudent action to protect residents and even restrict cities from creating their own municipal access services.
But he’s mistaken. There will be judicial pressure to overturn the FCC ruling. And by calling our members of Congress and making net neutrality a headline issue in the coming elections, we can also defend a fair and open internet through the legislative process.
If there was one big lesson of the 2016 election — from Bernie’s insurgency to Trump’s election — it’s that both left and right are wary of concentrated elite power. Turning internet service over to unaccountable cable TV-style corporate control is one of the surest ways to strengthen elite power relative to everyone else.
Note: This is an opinion-editorial written by Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s cofounder and chairwoman. Please use this article as supplemental material in your coverage of Video 1.