Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) chairman, announced that he and thus the FCC are moving forward with reversing net neutrality and that the FCC Board will vote on this issue on December 14th, 2017. While it is next to certain that the Board will vote to revoke the net neutrality law, speaking up on this issue is still critically important – giving voice is always wise and in the law suits that are sure to follow, it will be important for the defenders of net neutrality to the point to the millions of Americans who have spoken up to protect net neutrality.
A loss of net neutrality would mean that the internet would morph into a product, the main goal of which is to make money. Internet providers could, and most likely would, create various speeds at which internet content is transmitted to you, the user, and could, probably would, charge customers more to get the faster speed and to access various parts of the internet (https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2017/11/21/16680290/fcc-end-net-neutrality-vote-announced). An example can be seen in Portugal, which does not have net neutrality laws, where an internet service provider has broken up access to the internet into different ‘units’ that you need to buy separately, think of this as an à la carte approach to using the internet: if you want to access Facebook you have to buy the social media package, if you want to engage in messaging then the messaging package is for you and if watching videos is in your future then you need to add that package to your cart, etc…. (http://www.iflscience.com/technology/country-net-neutrality/). The way, in which we use the internet, our very understanding of what the internet is and who it is available to (i.e. everyone) will be fundamentally changed by a revoking of net neutrality. Experts are saying that an increased price tag for one’s internet service is almost guaranteed to occur following the removal of net neutrality ((https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/net-neutrality-repeal-questions.html).
Mr. Pai’s, and the Republican, argument for revoking net neutrality is essentially a version of trickle-down economics; the argument is that if Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the company that provides you your internet access (less than 25% of the country has multiple ISPs to choose from – I know this includes where we live in the VC), is de-regulated and free to charge more for fast access then those companies will make more profits. These companies will then turn around and re-invest those profits into building up America’s internet infrastructure. This increased internet infrastructure will lead to more ISPs and therefore more competition and thus the free market will ensure that prices as well as access stay competitive (https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/22/ajit-pai-fcc-defends-net-neutrality-repeal-258161, https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2017/11/21/16680290/fcc-end-net-neutrality-vote-announced). Another argument that Mr. Pai makes is that he is simply returning the internet to what it was before the net neutrality law of 2015, while this may sound great – the truth is that in the US, the internet has always followed net neutrality. Thus the 2014 decision by the FCC codified what was standard practice – see the blog post from July 3rd, 2017 for more on this.
Needless to say countless people, the Democratic Party as well as many internet companies point out that there are numerous problems with this logic and that numerous things can, and probably will go wrong with this free-market approach. In short there are two major fears of opponents to the FCC’s upcoming decision: 1) an end to net neutrality will result in a “pay-to-play technology” with big companies and the well-to-do cruising in the internet fast lane while the rest of us, as well as start-ups and small companies, cruising in the slow lane, 2) the policy Mr. Pai has put forward would allow ISP’s to block content, which has never before been allowed, and thus there is bonafide fear that the intentional slowing of certain content or even censorship will begin to occur (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/net-neutrality-repeal-questions.html, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/fcc-net-neutrality.html).
While the time period has ended to make a formal statement to the FCC, here is the contact information for the FCC, including Chairman Pai – make your opinions on this issue heard: https://www.fcc.gov/about/contact.