How does one go about keeping net neutrality in place? And why exactly is this a thing that needs to be done?
This question is terrific because it hits right at the heart of the problem, which is that nothing needs to be done to keep net neutrality rules in place. Most people really like net neutrality when you poll them about it — even the cable company lobbying group has released polling that shows that. So right now net neutrality is the law, and to undo it, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has to show “substantial proof” that the market for internet access has changed enough to justify a change — otherwise he’ll lose a court battle. So he’s spending millions of dollars trying to develop that proof, and he’ll spend millions more fighting the inevitable lawsuit. All to change a law most people like!
Really all the government has to do to protect net neutrality is leave well enough alone. Which, you might note, is generally a conservative policy strategy.
As for why’d you want to keep net neutrality rules in place instead of spending a bunch of money and time in court to change them, well, there are a few reasons: first, it’s better for everyone if rules and regulations stay the same over time, so companies can plan and innovate around them. Second, I do think it’s important that we think about internet access as a utility to which all Americans need access, which is an important conceptual part of the current net neutrality framework. The digital divide is very real: there are real kids in America today who can’t get access to educational materials because of strict data caps and real people who can’t gain new skills or apply for new kinds of jobs because they don’t have broadband access.
Since I write about consumer tech products, I think the most important reason to keep net neutrality laws on the books is that they prevents internet service providers from screwing with the apps and services that we all rely on every day.
I just wrote a whole essay and video about this, but the main thing is that over half of Americans only have one choice of broadband provider, and 89 percent of Americans only have two choices. That lack of competition means ISPs have a lot of incentives and wiggle room to screw you over, because you can’t run to a competitor. Net neutrality rules recognize that lack of competition and make it illegal to mess with your connection.
The internet is one of the few level playing grounds left in the United States. It let startups like Netflix and Amazon compete with Blockbuster and Walmart and become giants all on their own. Take away net neutrality, and the only companies that will survive will be the ones that can afford the inevitable taxes the ISPs will throw up — taxes they’ve already tried to throw up in various shady ways.
This day of action is symbolically necessary because the FCC majority has stated their intent to get rid of net neutrality as we know it.
In 2015, the FCC adopted strong net neutrality rules aimed at putting you in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing what legal content to access online. Not your broadband provider – you. We did this by using Title II of the Communications Act, the only authority that courts have said is sufficient to protect net neutrality, to adopt rules prohibiting blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of internet content. Let me say that again in simpler terms: The court upheld the FCC’s net neutrality rules. We are currently operating under the strongest legal framework that will ensure and preserve a fast, fair and open Internet.
Now the new FCC majority wants to get rid of Title II authority for broadband, which means getting rid of net neutrality rules and the only source of authority that the courts have found to be sufficient and legally sustainable. We need to remind them of what the court ruled. We need to make them think twice about going forward with a plan that the court has twice ruled against. So file your comment, call your federal Representative and Senators and tell them what you think and remind them of what the court has upheld. While you may be one voice, together we are a powerful chorus.
Net neutrality has been one of the guiding principles of the Internet since it was created. It’s what makes it possible for startups to challenge established players, and for disruptive technologies to change how we pay for things, communicate with each other, share stuff, etc. Without net neutrality, the Internet would be more centralized and far less dynamic. Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon have the technical means to interfere with this whole dynamic by slowing down or blocking websites and charging small players special fees to compete with big players. They realize how valuable it is to have an open, fair playing field on the Internet and they want to use their gatekeeper position to make more money. If this happens, cable companies would get to choose what you can see and do on online, and the Internet will start to feel more like cable television.