Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to undo the Net Neutrality rules, brought in under President Obama and former FCC head Tom Wheeler, which protected online competition, free speech and privacy for users.
As expected, Pai revealed plans to open up the market for internet service providers (ISPs) to extract large sums of money from both users and online companies that wish to reach users. By creating a cash-for-access market, ISPs could undermine start up companies and new services by placing user access out of their reach; while larger companies like Facebook and Netflix would have no problem paying higher fees to reach consumers, smaller companies would. This means that the user would, in effect, only see content from companies who could afford to buy access to them.
As well as threatening your equal access to all types of different content, a repeal of Net Neutrality rules could mean that your privacy is in the hands of your ISP. By taking ISPs away from the FCC and putting them in the remit of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) instead, this legislation would make it very difficult to protect consumer privacy, as the FTC can only intervene if an ISP breaks a privacy promise (the type that they’re unlikely to ever make in the first place) and then only if the ISP doesn’t also offer a telephone service. If an ISP offers a phone service too, the FTC can’t touch it.
It’s not just consumers that are in favour of keeping the current Net Neutrality rules. The Intenet Association, which represents 40 top web companies including Google and Facebook, put out this statement through the group’s CEO Michael Beckerman:
The current FCC net neutrality rules are working and these consumer protections should not be changed. Consumers pay for access to the entire internet free from blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization.
It’s exactly that blocking, throttling and paid prioritization that seems to be inevitable if the FCC succeeds in rolling back these rules—as well as the undermining of consumer online privacy.
But what would a repeal mean for you?
A repeal of 2015’s Open Internet Order would take away the only legislation stopping ISPs from creating a two-tier system of access, charging both businesses and consumers more. By throttling access to one tier, ISPs like Verizon could charge businesses more for being on the more accessible portion of the net, the portion that you’re more likely to see.
More terrifyingly, it could give ISPs the ability to censor the content you see. While Chairman Pai sought to downplay these fears, in the recent past Verizon tried to run a news service which banned all mentions of mass surveillance and Net Neutrality, arguing that these topics were contrary to the company’s interests. When your ISP gets to control what content you see, this is a real smack in the face for free speech and the power of information.
So what can we do?
If the FCC does roll back Net Neutrality rules, this could effectively end the internet as we know it: Open, equal and free.
However, as it has done before, the internet is fighting back.
The battle for Net Neutrality was fought and won two years ago, and with the help of users across the globe, it can be won again. If you’re in the US, you can look up your representative and write to Congress to tell them to protect the internet as we know it. If you’re the head of a US-based startup, join this letter from over 800 small businesses supporting Net Neutrality.
Be vocal in your opposition to these plans. We certainly will be.