Net Neutrality Now!
Net Neutrality Now! (Photo: Backbone Campaign)

Net neu­tral­i­ty ceas­es to be the law of the land in the U.S. as of June 11th.

In less than two weeks, Inter­net Ser­vice Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Ver­i­zon and Com­cast will be free to under­mine an essen­tial prin­ci­ple of Inter­net free­dom: equal treat­ment of all traf­fic, regard­less of who’s on either end.

Since 2015, net neu­tral­i­ty has been cod­i­fied as a set of Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion (FCC) reg­u­la­tions that require Inter­net Ser­vice Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Ver­i­zon and Com­cast to treat all online plat­forms, con­tent and users equally.

With­out net neu­tral­i­ty, ISPs will be allowed to charge for access to dif­fer­ent plat­forms and con­tent. This pref­er­en­tial treat­ment will turn a lev­el play­ing field into one that heav­i­ly favors the immense­ly pow­er­ful ISPs and those who are con­nect­ed enough or wealthy enough to obtain that pref­er­en­tial treatment.

The effects will be devastating.

While casu­al con­ver­sa­tions focus on whether we’ll have to pay more for Net­flix, that’s a minor con­cern com­pared to what’s real­ly at stake.

The loss of net neu­tral­i­ty is a threat to inno­va­tion, to small busi­ness­es, to star­tups, to schools, to non­prof­its like NPI, to peo­ple in rur­al areas, and to low income fam­i­lies. And it’s no exag­ger­a­tion to say that it’s a threat to democracy.

In the Pacif­ic North­west, two ISPs dom­i­nate most mar­kets: Com­cast and Cen­tu­ryLink. For many busi­ness­es and house­holds there’s effec­tive­ly just one option. This lack of com­pe­ti­tion lim­its incen­tive for inno­va­tion and cre­ates a dan­ger­ous con­sol­i­da­tion of pow­er in a cou­ple large, out-of-state corporations.

Imag­ine if those ISPs weren’t required to treat all traf­fic equally.

Not only could they charge more for ser­vices like Net­flix, they could give pref­er­en­tial treat­ment based on polit­i­cal and reli­gious viewpoints.

Exec­u­tives run­ning your ISP could decide to pro­vide unlim­it­ed access to some plat­forms and con­tent, while charg­ing for access to others.

Do you want to pay extra to access Gmail because your ISP owns Yahoo? Would you like to pay more for access to CNN than you would for Fox?

Don’t laugh. Such schemes may sound far­fetched, but they become real pos­si­bil­i­ties in a world with­out net neutrality.

The threat is becom­ing more omi­nous giv­en the con­sol­i­da­tion and ver­ti­cal inte­gra­tion that’s been tak­ing place, com­bin­ing con­trol of net­work traf­fic with con­trol over the media and con­tent that trav­el across those net­works. Com­cast is lead­ing this trend, hav­ing already acquired full own­er­ship of NBCU­ni­ver­sal in 2013.

Imag­ine the effect this would have on low-income house­holds. Com­cast’s bad prac­tices, includ­ing traf­fic shap­ing, could influ­ence which news out­lets they visit.

And what about inno­va­tion and startups?

Our North­west econ­o­my has ben­e­fit­ed immense­ly from new com­pa­nies enter­ing the mar­ket­place and com­pet­ing with estab­lished players.

Com­pa­nies like Redfin, which is mak­ing great strides to improve the cost and effi­cien­cy of home sales, might nev­er have tak­en flight with­out net neutrality.

So far, votes in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and state cap­i­tals have bro­ken most­ly on par­ty lines, with Democ­rats back­ing net neu­tral­i­ty and Repub­li­cans back­ing Ajit Pai’s effort to allow the likes of Com­cast to dic­tate what hap­pens to the Internet.

But ear­li­er this month, the Unit­ed States Sen­ate vot­ed to rein­state FCC’s 2015 Open Inter­net Order. Tip­ping the scales were three Repub­li­cans who vot­ed with Democ­rats and inde­pen­dents to restore net neutrality.

This is promis­ing, as it sug­gests some Repub­li­cans are will­ing to stand up to Pai. But the bat­tle to pro­tect a free and open Inter­net is far from over.

Take Action!

We need a con­cert­ed effort, on mul­ti­ple lev­els, to win this fight.

We can­not assume the House will fol­low the Senate’s lead and it’s unclear what would hap­pen should the res­o­lu­tion reach Trump’s desk.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Send a mes­sage to your U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive ask­ing them to sup­port net neu­tral­i­ty, regard­less of their posi­tion. Then, con­sid­er help­ing those in Repub­li­can-held con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts (like WA-08) con­vince their elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives that net neu­tral­i­ty is best for every­one and deserves to be sup­port­ed regard­less of one’s par­ty affil­i­a­tion or ideology.
  2. Use social media to ensure the peo­ple you know and inter­act with under­stand what’s at stake, and encour­age them to act.
  3. Con­tact your state and local rep­re­sen­ta­tives and push for action at the state and local lev­el. This past ses­sion, Wash­ing­ton’s Leg­is­la­ture approved its own net neu­tral­i­ty law. Oth­er states should now do likewise.

We all ought to be able to agree that a free and open Inter­net is worth having.

Large com­pa­nies in the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing Inter­net access can­not be allowed to engage in dis­crim­i­na­to­ry busi­ness prac­tices. Each of us ought to be able to freely choose the shows we watch, the voic­es we hear, or the sto­ries we read with­out hav­ing to pay extra or put up with a slow­er connection.

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