Next month, the Federal Communications Commission will vote to undo a number of rules that have come to be known as “net neutrality.” In short, these regulations enshrined in law the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally and should not be subject to the whims of internet service providers and cable companies.
The rules from the FCC in 2015 ensure broadband providers won’t block particular sites, throttle others or give preferential treatment to the most popular sites. These rules encouraged a free and open internet.
Previous regulations made the Internet a public utility. Rolling back these regulations would turn the Internet back into a private commodity.
In the runup to this vote, cable companies have been sure to say that they won’t move to throttle speeds or create paid internet fast lanes. Comcast in particular, the country’s largest home internet provider, has said it will be as transparent as possible and will absolutely not throttle or block traffic.
But in anticipation of the FCC’s incoming vote, Comcast has backpedaled on its original stance in the last few days. Now it says it won’t “discriminate against lawful content” or enforce “anti-competitive” internet fast lanes.
Moreover, it is difficult to trust Comcast at its word when, in 2007, it did just that. An investigation from The Associated Press discovered Comcast was blocking certain uploads to the file-sharing platform BitTorrent. It was only after this investigation was made public that Comcast admitted to throttling at all, and even then company spokespeople continued to say they never blocked user access despite the AP report.
In fact, it was this very corporate skullduggery that led to the enactment of net neutrality regulations in the first place. The FCC made its first foray into the open internet in late 2007 in an effort that would eventually expand into its 2010 Open Internet Order.
That order would eventually be struck down by the courts, but its spirit would live on in 2015 when the FCC moved to classify broadband providers as utilities under the federal Communications Act.
Now, the FCC says net neutrality is harming investment. It says ISPs don’t have an incentive to build up their customers and that the rules are harming competition and the free market. But in point of fact, these claims just aren’t supported by the evidence. There are numerous studies that show exactly the opposite — that broadband companies actually invest less in a market without net neutrality — and the numbers the FCC has provided to make its case just don’t check out.
On Cyber Monday a group of large and small internet companies including AirBnb, Reddit, Tumblr, Etsy and Twitter wrote a letter to the FCC urging them to ditch the plan to roll back net neutrality rules, calling the plan possibly disastrous.
The letter said that impressive Black Friday sales are “a testament to the power of the free and open internet to encourage entrepreneurship, drive innovation, make our lives easier, and to support a healthy economy.”
This all may seem like technical mumbo jumbo, and you may not have a small online business, and you might think that this debate has no effect on you, but it does. Anti-net neutrality is anti-free internet. Call your congressperson.