Saving net neutrality—again

Back in April of 2014, I wrote an open letter to the FCC. At the time, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) was considering a plan that would, for all intents and purposes, kill net neutrality. It would allow internet service providers (ISP) to establish “fast lanes” that content providers could opt to pay extra for if they wanted to ensure that their content would be served up to users quickly and without interruption.

At the time, I was one of about 4 million respondents to the FCC imploring them to maintain net neutrality.

As it turned out, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler listened to the public, relented and proposed a ruling that would de facto protect net neutrality. The entire commission voted, and Wheeler’s revised ruling to impose Title II classification of ISPs was passed.

Title II classification allows the FCC to put strict limits on ISP behavior by declaring them an information service, just like telephone companies.

Happy ending, right? No.

Doublespeak alive and well

New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald J. Trump, is looking to overturn the 2014 FCC ruling, and the FCC will vote on its new, if strangly-named, Restoring Internet Freedom ruling on December 14.

I say “strangely-named,” because a casual observer might think that internet freedom means net neutrality. It doesn’t, at least in the lexicon of today’s FCC.

In summary, the ruling intends to lift all restrictions on ISPs to maintain net neutrality, the long-standing philosophy that, on the Internet, all bits of data should be treated equally.

Why is net neutrality important? Here’s a bit of what I wrote to the FCC in my 2014 letter:

The web as we know it today is a cornucopia of educational, commercial, entertainment, and governmental services, and a robust communication medium that is providing the world at our fingertips.

The very thought that commercial interests—the Comcasts of the world—could control the Internet is upsetting, but even more important, a mistake of epic proportions. What is the very purpose of the FCC if not to ensure that the Internet remains an open, egalitarian environment that serves the greater good?

Which brings us back to the simple but elegant concept of net neutrality. Simple because a bit is a bit, all bits should be created equally. Elegant because it ensures against discrimination and enables anyone with access to enjoy the freedom of using the Internet undeterred.

You can find defenses of net neutrality all over the Internet—for now. Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times wrote a good, if somewhat pessimistic, article about it.

About the new FCC ruling

The ruling under FCC consideration is referred to as 17-108. What does the ruling do? Basically, the ruling seeks to roll back the Title II designation that the 2015 FCC ruling applied to ISPs, calling the 2015 ruling “heavy-handed.” According to today’s FCC:

That [2015] decision appears to have put at risk online investment and innovation, threatening the very open Internet it purported to preserve. Requiring ISPs to divert resources to comply with unnecessary and broad new regulatory requirements threatens to take away from their ability to make investments that benefit consumers. The lack of clarity around what Title II requires ISPs to do further appears to harm investment and have particularly harmful effects on small ISPs.

Actually, as best I can tell, that’s a bunch of baloney. There is tremendous competition in the market, and ISPs are making more money than they ever have. Not only that, virtually all ISPs are moving into the area of providing content (for example, Comcast now owns NBC).

As for lack of clarity, confusing those poor ISPs, the Title II designation simply gives the FCC the power to ensure that ISPs are information carriers rather than information providers.

Just as you would expect a phone company to treat all phone calls equally, the 2015 ruling ensured that ISPs could not provide preferential treatment for some content over other content. It preserved net neutrality.

That’s important because, for example, Comcast ought not to be able to prioritize its own content over that of Netflix. That would be a conflict of interest, and would not serve the public who are paying for the Internet service that the ISP is providing. In the example, Comcast would be double-dipping, requiring me to pay for Internet service, and Netflix to pay for prioritization of its streaming service.

Netflix could probably afford to pay Comcast, but what about start-ups companies, public service information providers, news outlets, bloggers and other website owners? It puts all those entities in competition with Netflix and other deep-pocketed companies for Internet throughput. Bad idea on so many levels.

Opposing the new ruling

The FCC doesn’t vote on the new ruling until December 14. There’s still time to oppose it. To file your formal objection, go to this web link: https://fcc.gov/ecfs/filings.

Be sure to reference the docket number 17-108. Yours will be among the 23,309,170 filings that have already been submitted (at the time of this writing).

There are other ways to oppose the FCC ruling, as well. Donate to or volunteer with the EFF, ACLU, or other free speech organizations.

The ruling is being opposed and, in some cases, litigated, and these organizations can use all the help they can get.

Finally, you can actively protest the ruling. Organizations like those mentioned above are banding together to organize public protests. There may still be time to join them.

Other considerations

Unless you’ve been living entirely off the grid lately, you might have noticed that there’s a lot of change afoot, particularly with the Trump administration.

Our 45th president, sometimes affectionately referred to as Dolt 45, seems intent on rolling back every progressive measure that his predecessor, Barack Obama, put into place.

Most of it is in the guise of getting out of the way of businesses so that they can create jobs and stimulate the economy.

The new FCC ruling certainly smacks of that. Let’s start with who Trump installed as the FCC Chairman—Ajit Pai (pictured).

Pai, a Republican, was originally appointed to the FCC in 2012 by President Obama, and staunchly opposed then-chairman Tom Wheeler in his support of the above-mentioned 2015 ruling.

Presumably, Pai passed some kind of partisan Rorschach test, because Trump appointed him as FCC Chairman in January 2017. Pai has certainly towed the “what’s best for business” party line.

Interestingly, Pai rebuffed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s efforts to investigate whether the FCC’s commenting system was flooded by Russian bots to oppose net neutrality. As mentioned, to date, over 28 million comments have been submitted on the proposed ruling.

Is Pai trying to hide something?

There’s the old saying that freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. Today, the Internet is the printing press, and right now, it’s not owned by any single entity. And that’s a good thing.

If net neutrality is banished, however, 10 years from now that likely won’t be the case.