UPDATE: The FCC voted to dismantle net neutrality regulations on December 14, 2017. Public sentiment remains firmly in favor of net neutrality and efforts to reinstate the regulations will continue. NCAC will monitor and report on potential incidents of ISPs limiting free expression.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intends to roll back net neutrality regulations in early December, threatening our ability to freely communicate on the internet and potentially curtailing the choices we make everyday about what we read, see, watch and write online. Net neutrality activists, including NCAC, are urging supporters to make their voices heard in demanding that certain companies–and their content–are not given preferential treatment. This issue could define consumers’ relationship to the internet in concerning and crucial ways.
Since it seems that net neutrality enters and leaves the news fairly frequently, you may need a refresher on what, exactly, is at stake. Our overview can be found here: pair.ncac.org/resource/network-neutrality-and-the-fight-to-save-the-internet-background. Essentially, net neutrality regulations prevent internet service providers (primarily large telecom companies like Comcast and AT&T) from speeding up or slowing down access to particular sites, like making the platforms and content owned by their subsidiaries significantly easier to access than competitor sites.
In 2015, the FCC voted 3-2 to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers and impose net neutrality rules. This subjects these companies to Title II of the Communications Act. Under the current regulations, internet service providers (ISPs) are required to treat all web traffic equally and cannot, for example, give preferential speed to businesses owned by their parent companies. Current regulations bar ISPs from blocking or slowing web traffic from sites or organizations that compete with or criticize them and prohibits them from charging businesses that use the internet for preferential service speeds on their networks. Without these regulations, providers would be able to create what are essentially tiered levels of service for companies that can afford to pay for preferential treatment.
The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai argues that the existing rules inhibit investment in broadband, although this claim has been challenged. Earlier this year, Pai announced plans to remove the classification of ISPs as common carriers, meaning they would no longer be subject to Title II regulations, effectively removing net neutrality standards. Pai’s plan has the support of broadband providers, while internet-based businesses and consumer advocacy groups oppose it. The FCC is set to vote on the plan in early December.
How this affects you: When you attempt to access a website and see that endless spinning wheel or watch the progress bar sputter and stop halfway across the page, you likely abandon that site for another. Now, imagine if the internet provider were doing this intentionally, slowing down the traffic to a site that criticized or competed with them to render it effectively unusable, while speeding up service to its own content or allies. Gradually what we interact with online and how we engage with the abundance of content on the internet is tilted towards whatever benefits the telecom company most. Those sites and online businesses that cannot afford the fees for faster service will peter out, having no way to reach their audiences. Those who can afford the fees and are willing to pay fealty to the ISPs will become, in essence, the whole of the usable internet.
While NCAC rarely supports the regulation of information, net neutrality regulations ensure that internet providers treat all information equally, without regard to its commercial or political content. They cannot speed up service to friendly outlets and slow–or even halt–service to unfriendly ones. They cannot determine who is and is not heard.
In 2017, far too much speech occurs on the internet for free speech advocates to stay quiet about net neutrality. NCAC opposes current attempts to roll back net neutrality regulations and urges you to make your voices heard in doing the same: https://www.battleforthenet.com/