What you need to know about the Net Neutrality situation

By: Clinton Barney

Earlier this year, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) revealed their plan to restrict net neutrality laws, set by Chairman Ajit Pai in his Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (Photo from Wired.com)

The current net neutrality laws force internet service providers, such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner, to “treat all online platforms, content and users equally” and “keep providers from setting fees and transmission speeds” to certain websites for business reasons.

Without net neutrality, in theory, Comcast, who controls NBC, can choose whether or not to slow down sites owned by rival companies, like Netflix, in order to promote their own streaming services and websites.

In another example, Time Warner, who owns CNN, would be able to slow down other news sites, such as rivaling Fox News or NBC, in order to promote their own companies.

However, the FCC is saying that there is a process in place to make sure bad business practices like this won’t happen.

The FCC’s main goal in repealing the current net neutrality laws is to give more power to the companies that provide you with internet and remove the restrictions of the government which they claim “micromanage” and reduce investments for internet service providers, all without those companies abusing their customers.

The Federal Communications Commission was established in 1934 by the U.S government in order to regulate media seen or heard on TV, radio and internet, promote competition between media companies, and encourage investments within media and broadband services.

In 2015, the FCC under President Obama established net neutrality laws which regulated internet service providers and forced them to comply with the government’s mandate of keeping the internet “open”.

In January 2017, the Trump Administration named Ajit Pai, former lawyer at Verizon and commissioner of the FCC under Obama, the new chairman of the FCC.

Ajit Pai says that removing net neutrality laws will be would be beneficial for “digital consumers and entrepreneurs alike”. He also claims that this step would be a major factor in creating competition between internet service providers, which increases investments, which allows more money to flow through the economy.

There is much debate on whether or not the removal of net neutrality will actually do anything good for the millions of internet users.

In a document published by the FCC that claims to set the record straight on Ajit Pai’s Order, they say that the internet will continue to remain “open and free” as it did before the proclaimed “heavy-handed” regulations set in 2015, and internet companies will not block users from their favorite websites.

Ro Khanna’s tweet that sparked the Portugal comparison. (Photo from Snopes)

The document also refutes the Portugal comparison, saying that Portugal has net neutrality laws, and the bundles that companies offer are for mobile data packages rather than internet access.

Snopes also rates the Portugal net neutrality claim to be mostly false.

Demonstrators rally in support of net neutrality outside a Verizon store on Dec. 7. in New York.  Mary Altaffer/AP (Photo from Politico)

Save The Internet, a non-for-profit organization that is fighting to preserve internet rights says that the removal of net neutrality will allow cable and phone companies to “call the shots” and control what goes on in the internet. The organization is also concerned that underrepresented groups and activist organizations will have a hard time organizing and sharing their message with others if the repeal is put into effect.

Change.org agrees, saying that no net neutrality could have global implications for the way the world shares and receives information” from journalists, news websites and organizations not sponsored by the government.

Another major concern regarding the removal of net neutrality is its impact on small businesses. Corynne McSherry, legal director at the digital-rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that the lack of net neutrality will leave businesses, startups and institutions that don’t have a lot of money “regulated to slower service” and stuck in the slow lanes of the internet superhighway.

In an open letter to Congress, Fight For The Future, a non-for-profit that is leading the charge against the FCC, writes that if the laws go into effect, “A few corporations will have control over what you see and hear, while independent and up-and-coming artists’ ability to make a living will be devastated.

Even though many people are concerned about the future of the internet, the FCC has remained firm and assured that their plan is what’s best for the internet.

So when you get past the wild accusations, fearmongering, and hysteria, here’s the boring bottom line: The plan to restore Internet freedom would return us to the light touch, market-based approach under which the Internet thrived,” said Ajit Pai in response to the public outcry.

According to The Washington Post, the Restoring Internet Freedom Order will force internet service providers to be honest and release proof informing consumers of their policies or business deals. So in theory, if an internet service provider were to slow down or speed up access to certain websites, everybody should be able to know.

So, Comcast won’t be able to slow down Netflix streaming times nor would Time Warner be able to slow down the time to access an NBC news article without the public knowing.

The same article also points out that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will work with the FCC regarding the business practices of internet service providers in punishing and fining the companies if they do something unfair for consumers.

The FCC claims that restoring Internet freedom will be a “better, faster and cheaper” solution for consumers, while online giants like Facebook, Google, Netflix and even Machinima have argued that the lack of net neutrality will harm consumers and change the landscape of the internet.

The Restoring Internet Freedom Order is going to be voted among FCC officials on Thursday, December 14th.

You can watch the decision ruling live on the FCC website.

Extra details on Thursday’s meeting can be found here.