Net Neutrality Showdown: What it Means

If you’re paying attention, you know that a vote on unraveling Net Neutrality is looming with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

The proposal up for the vote seeks to reverse the Title II classification of internet providers, replacing it will an old “information service” classification. The former allows the FCC to strictly limit the behavior of internet providers while the latter is limited and weakens consumer protections.

As commission chairman Ajit Pai puts it:

“Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

Unfortunately, the FCC’s plan will likely actually squash innovation, censor content, and limit access.

Its plan is to toss anti-competitive disputes to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action against ISPs that violate their published policies. It’s a silly and roundabout way to “handle” ISPs. It does nothing for consumers but give them a front row seat to getting robbed.

Published policies and terms of service offer no consumer protections - but are rife with legalese shielding the companies. They are also fully controlled by each company and apt to change at any moment. A company could simply pen a new set of policies that is more aligned with what it feels like doing that day. So long as it remains “compliant” with its own policies, it doesn’t have to worry about the FTC.

That works out well for ISPs.

What a Rollback Looks Like

This isn’t your local Walmart’s Rollback, unfortunately. If the Net Neutrality protections are rolled back, ISPs will have free reign to charge extra for “premium” websites like Twitter or Facebook. They also have the ability to throttle speeds or even block other sites and apps. ISPs (Comcast, AT&T and Verizon), of course, favor the measure and are asking customers to “just trust us.”  

Sure. Ok.

The repeal would essentially enable ISPs to do whatever they please, so long as it is transparent. So if they provide faster streaming to certain websites or apps for a premium, that’s ok. They just can’t hide it.

What’s more, many ISPs also own content distribution platforms. Ending net neutrality gives ISPs the power to prioritize their own platforms. Oligarchy, anyone? The ability to compete for smaller, less powerful entities will disintegrate. ISPs can charge the little guys more for bandwidth, which will ultimately get passed along to customers, along with increased latency and reduced performance.

We’re already seeing this happen in several ways. First, there is the AT&T-Time Warner merger, a bid currently under attack by the Justice Department for raising antitrust issues. If that deal were to proceed, the result would be a telecom & media mammoth. Combining one of the nation’s biggest internet and telephone providers (and television distributor via its acquisition of DirecTV) and the world’s third largest entertainment company would make it nearly impossible for others to compete in that arena.

Then there’s the issue of zero-rating, where ISPs remove data limits for certain platforms/content providers. So customers can consume content from those platforms and it doesn’t count against their data plan. Case-in-point: AT&T practices zero-rating with its own DirecTV. On the flip side, ISPs can use that power to line their pockets by allowing content creators to pay wholesale prices for zero-rated content.

Incumbent giants will continue to accrue power, and the possibility for innovators to break into the market will get smaller and smaller.

How To Take A Stand

The fight isn’t over yet. There are still some things you can do to voice your opinion and take a stand:

To have an internet tomorrow, we must not burn the internet today. Help put the fire out!