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.
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:
- 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.
- Use social media to ensure the people you know and interact with understand what’s at stake, and encourage them to act.
- 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.