Net Neutrality Explained
Over the past couple of months, we have been hearing a lot about the ‘Net Neutrality’ law, and how not having it any more thanks to President Trump the world is going to be a dangerous place. Net Neutrality, depending on whom you ask is either a good thing or a really bad decision signed into law by ex-president Obama.
However, people both on the right and left agree that when you’re online as an American, it’s your right to connect with anything you want. You also expect that the phone and cable operator is not slowing down or blocking what you can see. Obviously, you want to be control of your experience and the Net Neutrality bill which was later signed into law in 2015 sort of guaranteed that to Americans.
Why not having Net Neutrality is considered a bad thing?
Well for the one you are not in control! Whether you are on the right or left of this argument, everyone agrees that the law prohibited ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T from speeding up or slowing down access to certain websites. In some extreme instances, they without this law can easily block access to websites.
So, the Net Neutrality law mainly guaranteed what was already pretty commonsense since the dawn of the internet. Though removing it has opened up a whole new can of worms. Then there is the fact that the over 2 million activists who pressured the FCC (Federal Communication Commission), back in 2015 to adopt the law have had all their work undone. Obviously, people on the left of this argument are not happy.
What sparked this debate all over again?
On December 14, 2017, the Republican majority of the FCC, approved Ajit Pai’s plan to remove the Net Neutrality law. Many note that not only is Pai a Republican appointee but also a former lawyer for Verizon. He also failed to take into consideration the outcry from millions of Americans who opposed his plan. These include public interest groups, lawmakers, companies, etc.
Here is why you should start caring if you don’t already
Net Neutrality rules are based on what’s called Title II of the Communications Act which gives internet users protection against many steps that ISPs can take to act against their interest. Interestingly US courts rejected two earlier attempts by the FCC to craft new rules, and they were consistently told that if they wanted to implement such protections, it would have to be done with a solid legal foundation. Then the FCC reclassified their broadband providers to what’s called ‘common carriers’ under this Title II.
The result of this reclassification was that ISPs couldn’t block or throttle or even interfere with internet traffic. So, they provided a level playing field to everyone something which has managed to set the internet apart from all other forms of communication. Naturally, the rules encouraged an increasing number of businesses to start competing online which led to better and more varied services.
The new Title II rules were upheld despite two significant pushbacks by the industry. However, back then there was a Democratic majority in the house, but today it’s a totally different ballgame.
What can possibly happen without Net Neutrality or Title II?
Well for one you could suddenly find that accessing Netflix is so slow, that you can go out for a jog only to return and see that your favorite show has yet to load. You may also find that while your internet access Verizon’s media-heavy website, for instance, is excellent, for some reason, Google results take forever to load. Also, one day your access to Facebook could be blocked or throttled because your ISP had a falling out with Zuckerberg. All of this will happen, and they wouldn’t be breaking the law. But that’s not all you should be worried about.
Your ISP like Verizon, AT&T or Comcast for instance which also sells cable TV subscriptions will probably want to slow your access to streaming websites like Sling TV, or fuboTV, etc. This is so that you can’t access cord-cutting services which leave you no choice but to use cable television which turns out be more expensive than these streaming services.
Most countries don’t have Net Neutrality laws, and it’s perfectly fine
One of the most prominent arguments I run into is that most countries on God’s green earth don’t have a so-called neutrality law for the internet and everything is fine. However, countries like Canada the UK and many others have strong consumer protection laws. Thus, consumers are protected from any and all funny business by ISPs.
Businesses will stand to suffer
Whether you’re running an affiliate website, sell products on Etsy or freelance on Fiverr, chances are you will be affected in a major way too. Having an open internet gives small businesses, startups, and other people a level playing field. These people can launch their business and reach millions with the right marketing strategy. That, in turn, fosters things like job growth, innovation, and competition.
Now that the Net Neutrality law has been scrapped ISPs could merely ask business owners to pay them for quicker access to their websites. Those who don’t pay may find that clients are unable to access the website or when they do access the speed is throttled.
It could also spell disaster for many foreign businesses
Now whether you’re based in Canada or Australia, if in any way you’re accessing services or perhaps using services based in America you may be affected. However, it’s worth mentioning that it’s been over three months since the Net Neutrality rules have been removed and there have been no significant adverse developments. Though when it comes to ISPs and the internet, you always learn about how they are going to squish you at the last moment.
So, let’s say you’re based in Australia and run a website selling cars online. If you’re using GoDaddy or HostGator for instance (both are based in the US), you could end up having to pay more for the service. That is because these hosting service providers are incurring an extra cost because they now need to pay ISPs to give them more bandwidth. Also, if you’re using a service that tends to rebel, don’t be surprised if your customers in Sydney aren’t able to access your website.
Though it’s not only businesses, the average Canadian or Australian or anyone else could also face problems. If ISPs decide that services like Netflix and Spotify should pay more to get a so-called fast lane for streaming. The cost will most certainly be passed down to the consumer.
The Fight hasn’t Ended
The good news is that major players in the tech industry like Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. strongly support Net Neutrality. They are fighting hard to bring the law back. As a matter of fact, it is causing major ripples in the country’s political circle with New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman threatening to sue the FCC in a bid to block the demise of this one last bastillion of freedom in America.