FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, announced last month that the agency would vote to undo its 2015 net neutrality rules, which prevent companies like Verizon and Comcast from blocking or slowing down websites or creating internet “fast lanes.”
There have been many attempted attacks on Americans’ freedom online, going back as far as SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and they have all received an immense amount of backlash from the public, resulting in none of these bills being passed. In 2015 Net Neutrality seemed to have been cemented for Americans when the internet was reclassified as a tool closer to a public utility, of which every American has a right to. Since then it has looked as though we, as Americans, had won the battle for our freedom online. But all of that changed last month.
Ajit Pai’s new plan would remove the restrictions on how broadband companies can handle web traffic, as well as put the FTC in charge of policing web providers.
Essentially, if Ajit Pai’s plan goes through, companies will be able to control what sites you access. In theory, a company could pay off web providers to blackball competing companies’ websites. It would be possible to reduce the exposure people have to candidates running for office by blacklisting their websites, or the websites of important events occurring throughout the country by reducing access to news organizations’ sites, to push whatever narrative those in power deem appropriate. Obviously, these are worst case scenario ideas, but the point still stands.
This repeal also opens the doors to service providers charging users for access to certain websites, or categories of websites. Want to access your favorite social media sites? That could mean paying an extra $10 on your bill each month. Video steaming sites like Netflix? Bandwidth is expensive, that’ll be an extra $20. Internet access providers could also extort the companies that provide these online services. For example, Comcast could charge Netflix fees to provide customers access to their website.
Broadband providers have, of course, promised not to abuse the power the Net Neutrality repeal would grant them: “AT&T intends to operate its network the same way AT&T operates its network today: in an open and transparent manner. We will not block websites, we will not throttle or degrade internet traffic based on content, and we will not unfairly discriminate in our treatment of internet traffic,” Bob Quinn, AT&T’s head of regulatory affairs, wrote in a blog post this week.
“Many critics don’t seem to understand that we are moving from heavy-handed regulation to light-touch regulation, not a completely hands-off approach,” Pai said in a speech on Tuesday. “We aren’t giving anybody a free pass. We are simply shifting from one-size-fits-all pre-emptive regulation to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure or anticompetitive conduct.”
Ajit Pai has received threatening voicemails in the backlash resulting from his plan. People have threatened that they know his family, listing them by name, and an image depicting his children walking home from school has circulated on Twitter. Pai has latched on to these extreme cases as a defense for his plan, stating that people opposed to it are insane, deranged, fringe activists.
Although there is obvious public disapproval of the Net Neutrality repeal, congress appears unfazed. Sen Susan Collins is the only Republican lawmaker in opposition to the repeal. Congressional Democrats are forming an effort to persuade the FCC to cancel the repeal vote by circulating a letter and collecting signatures urging Pai not to hold the vote. Since the Republicans hold a majority in Congress, the measure will likely pass if it is brought to vote.
The internet has been aflame recently, with many sites coming out in opposition to the repeal. Virtually every post on Reddit’s front page was related to the repeal following Ajit Pai’s announcement, with other heavy-hitters like Netflix, Twitter, and Amazon coming out in opposition of the repeal.
Only time will tell what the true ramifications of America losing Net Neutrality are, or whether or not it is even repealed at all. OurWrites.org as an organization is certainly opposed to the repeal. It is not that far-fetched to think that without Net Neutrality, sites like ours could face suppression if they attracted the wrong kind of attention from people or organizations that benefit from a relationship with telecom companies.
Here at OurWrites.org we are attempting to ensure that you, as voters have a voice and that your voice is heard by law makers. The loss of Net Neutrality could mean the stifling of your voice, or an inability to find information important to the way you vote. If you’re getting flashbacks to 1984, you’re not being paranoid. Don’t be fooled, these telecom companies are not struggling financially, not even close. Repealing Net Neutrality doesn’t benefit the consumer in any way, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It will only ensure that telecom companies and the powerful people and companies that do business with them have more control over the flow of information online, allowing them to charge more for the information that they do let flow.
You might be asking what you can do to try and prevent the loss of Net Neutrality. At at this point it is important to contact your senators and express your opinion. That might be a fruitless effort, though, here in UT, though, as both Hatch and Lee have been quite clear about their support of the repeal.
They sold Utahns, and this nation to the telecom lobby for the prices of $106,750 and $60,913, respectively, information pulled from public donor databases.
It’s not too late to have your voice heard. Make your friends and family aware of what’s unfolding online, urge them to reach out to their representatives. Alert the people you care about that their freedom is under fire, though the enemy isn’t foreign in this case, it is the telecom companies and the law makers they have paid off.