The FCC recently posted a notice about a proposed piece of legislation that would, essentially, roll back the Open Internet Order of 2015, which established the concept of net neutrality.
These are publicly available documents, and you can read them for yourself. Of course, the documents are also wordy and complicated, so I’m going to distill them down into something we can all understand here.
Here’s what such proposed legislation would mean for the internet—and for the future of our technology.
What It Actually Means
The proposal is called “Restoring Internet Freedom,” because its proponents believe that net neutrality is restrictive. But this definition has a cruel ironic tinge to it, because net neutrality is what keeps the internet freely and equally available. Net neutrality is the way the internet has always worked, so much so that we take it for granted.
Net neutrality allows us to access the internet at the same speeds, no matter what we’re doing, without having to worry about broadband providers artificially slowing down, speeding up, or blocking internet access based on whatever criteria they get to choose. If net neutrality is abolished, that gives internet service providers (ISPs) at least some power to block content they don’t like.
So why are people trying to take away equal, open access to the internet? These are some of the biggest arguments for the changes:
- Title II is an obsolete law. The legal precedent for establishing net neutrality in the first place was Title II of the Communications Act, which was passed back in 1934. Proponents of the repeal suggest that Title II is obsolete—a relic of the Depression Era intended solely to break up existing monopolies. However, there are countless “old” laws that have created the legal infrastructure we live by, and the legislation was never intended solely to stop monopolies.
- The 1996 Telecommunications Act. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 states that the internet and other interconnected computer services should remain “unfettered” by state and federal regulations. Proponents of the rollback cite this, saying net neutrality is a case of the federal government interfering where it shouldn’t. However, the internet of 1996 was very different; dial-up was the norm, and it wasn’t nearly as crucial to everyday communication and information as it is today.
- Investment and entrepreneurial discouragement. Proponents of the rollback have also insisted that net neutrality rules discourage investment in existing broadband companies, and bog down prospective small business owners with the threat of excessive paperwork and regulations. However, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that broadband companies are suffering reduced profits or investments. The small business problem could also easily be solved with an allowance that compensates them for the increased cost of compliance.
The Big Consequences
So why fight for net neutrality? What could happen if the rules establishing it suddenly disappeared?
- Communication and bandwidth are controlled. Internet providers get to choose which apps and which users get bandwidth, how, and under what conditions. That makes it easy for them to limit bandwidth for apps that may compete with their other services. It also means internet providers may roll out new tiers of internet speeds and access, potentially charging their customers more for the same level of access.
- New apps may leave the US for more visibility. If United States internet providers suddenly have the power to artificially control and stifle competing apps, we may see a flood of entrepreneurs and tech innovators moving to other countries. For example, Dubai is already growing as a massive hub for startup tech entrepreneurs, and it could look even more attractive if the United States is no longer protected by net neutrality.
- Monopolies may easily emerge. Companies that gain full control over the marketplace will become profit-centric monopolies, capable of controlling the direction of the entire industry with no legal or regulatory body to prevent them from unfairly exploiting customers.
What You Can Do
So what can you do to keep net neutrality in place? You can start by reading the proposal yourself and leaving comments about what you think. However, this may not be especially effective, as the FCC has already received 2.6 million comments and has changed very little about the document.
You can also sign online petitions, and call your representatives to let them know how you feel about net neutrality and the FCC. Most importantly, keep yourself educated and spread the word about new developments; the future of the internet, and technology in general, is at stake.