Talk about the other shoe dropping. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wasted no time after changing one regulation that will decrease access to news and freedom of the press to change another that does the same thing. Less than a week after announcing it would allow companies to own both broadcast stations and newspapers in the same town, the FCC is proposing to end net neutrality.
Yes, you read right.
The Trump FCC is on the verge of overthrowing net neutrality, the policy that Internet service providers (ISP) and governments must treat all data the same way. Net neutrality prevents ISPs from discriminating or charging different rates because of the user, content, website, platform, application or type of attached equipment.
Current net neutrality rules prohibit ISPs from slowing down, blocking or charging more for the delivery of Internet content. Without net neutrality, ISPs like Spectrum, Verizon and Comcast could create different levels of service, sending the content of big corporations that can afford the higher rates at faster speeds and slowing down other content. You could experience slowdowns in receiving and in sending content. As the New York Times points out in the first story it did on the new FCC plan, Verizon could slow down delivery of movies from Netflix because Netflix competes with Verizon’s FiOs.
The most profoundly disruptive part of the FCC plan—constructed by telecom henchman and FCC chair Ajit Pai—is the reversal of an Obama administration decision to consider Internet broadband service to be a utility. Because utilities such as electricity, landline phone service, home natural gas service and water, are considered essential to the participation in modern life and the economy, they are allowed to be heavily regulated—not just by the federal government, but by states as well. Governments regulate many aspects of a utility’s business—for example, what it can charge, how it can charge, the level of service it must provide, when it must provide free or subsidized rates, how it can advertise, where and how it can extend service, and standards and procedures for beginning and shutting off service.
There is currently little regulation of broadband service, but the Internet is still relatively new. Considering broadband to be a utility will make it easier in the future to institute those regulations that will make high-quality broadband service available to everyone at reasonable rates, like water and electricity. The FCC decision to take the “utility” label off broadband service is short-sighted and will eventually lead to more expensive or lower quality Internet connections for many, if not most people. It will be the equivalent of suddenly turning off the water tap or limiting electricity service to certain hours of the day.
Just as with the FCC decision to allow companies to own both broadcast and print media properties in one locale, Pai’s rationale for ending net neutrality is to enable telecoms to compete with Google and Amazon. And once again, the reasoning makes no sense. Google, Amazon and other Internet portals are not ISPs. They neither provide nor enable electrons to pass over wires or radio wave impulses to travel through air according to strict and highly detailed engineering specifications. All Amazon and Google do is provide content—a whole heck of a lot of it, to be sure.
If the FCC or the federal government have a problem with Facebook or Google, they should go after these companies, not create new regulations that threaten access to the Internet and freedom of speech. It’s increasingly clear that both Facebook and Amazon control vast amounts of information and business. For Amazon, the answer is simple—break the company up, like the government broke up Standard Oil and AT&T. The case of Facebook is less simple, because as a social media site it has become something of a utility. We could declare Facebook a utility and then break the profit-making part of the business—selling ads on Facebook—into several businesses, perhaps based on territory, which was the basis for the AT&T breakup. But when the FCC blames Facebook and Amazon as the excuse for ending net neutrality or allowing companies to own more local media outlets, it’s creating more large and problematic business behemoths instead of addressing the concerns about the existing behemoths.
Note, too, that this primary rational involves the impact on businesses, not the greater good of consumers or society. As usual, a right-winger is making the argument that if we help the already powerful, they will have the tools to help all of us. As with lowering taxes on the wealthy, it’s faulty logic that fails in real world conditions.
According to the Times short article, the FCC will vote on ending net neutrality in its December meeting, with the tally likely to be along party lines, 3-2 in favor of the proposal.
That means we don’t have much time to protest. Write to the FCC, to Donald Trump, and to your Senators and Congressional representatives. Attend any rallies or marches organized to uphold net neutrality. Spread the word via social media.
I imagine those who want to preserve net neutrality will be getting a lot of help from the large content-providing corporations that funded the protests in 2015 when the Obama FCC was considering the net neutrality issue. Those who naturally feel squeamish supporting anything that big corporations are behind, keep in mind that it was the support of big corporations that helped win the fight for gay marriage and transgender equality. Big corporations also helped to preserve the Affordable Care Act. Many are lining up against the GOP’s awful proposal to cut taxes on the wealthy and pay for it by raising taxes on the middle class, increasing deficits and cutting programs. Sometime you don’t get to choose who your trench mates are. You join hands and fight the common enemy, knowing you may be fighting your fellow soldier in another battle once this one is over.
Like so many of the battles being fought against the current administration, a lot is at stake. If we want to continue to have an open society with an easy flow and equal access to information and commerce, we must preserve net neutrality and the concept that broadband Internet is a utility.