All Rights Reserved
What do we need to know about Net Neautrality: is the internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. Right now, you can go online and connect with friends, watch videos and read the news. There’s a good chance you are reading this online right now.
We do much more on the internet than consume content, however. Increasingly, the internet is also where we create. We use online platforms and digital services to develop, share and spread ideas around the corner and around the globe.
But this week, the leadership at the Federal Communications Commission put forth a plan to kill the foundation of this openness. They have released a draft of its plan to kill net-neutrality rules , which equalized access to the internet and prevented broadband providers from favoring their own apps and services. Net neutrality is the right to go where you want and do what you want on the internet without your broadband provider getting in the way. It means your broadband provider can’t block websites, throttle services or charge you premiums if you want to reach certain online content.
So What comes next?
The FCC’s move will allow companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to charge internet companies for speedier access to consumers and to block outside services they don’t like. The change also axes a host of consumer protections, including privacy requirements and rules barring unfair practices that gave consumers an avenue to pursue complaints about price gouging.
Proponents of wiping out these rules think that by allowing broadband providers more control and the ability to charge for premium access, it will spur investment. This is a dubious proposition.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation. But many worry that his proposal will stifle small tech firms and leave ordinary citizens more at the mercy of cable and wireless companies.
During the last Republican administration, that of George W. Bush, FCC policy held that people should be able to see what they want on the internet and to use the services they preferred. But attempts to enshrine that net-neutrality principle in regulation never held up in court — at least until Wheeler pushed through the current rules now slated for termination.
Pai’s proposals stand a good chance of enactment at the next FCC meeting in December. But there will be lawsuits to challenge them.
The formal proposal reveals more details of the plan than were in the FCC’s Tuesday press release. For instance, if companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon decide to block a particular app, throttle data speeds for a rival service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay for it, they merely need to disclose their policies for doing so.
The FCC also says it will pre-empt state rules on privacy and net neutrality that contradict its approach. Verizon has noted that New York has several privacy bills pending, and that the California legislature has suggested coming up with its own version of net neutrality rules should the federal versions perish.
At the same time, there are real questions about who filed some of the net neutrality comments with the FCC. There are credible allegations that many of the comments were submitted by bots and others using the names of deceased people. What’s more, some 50,000 recent consumer complaints appear to have gone missing.
As he announced this week, New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman has been investigating these apparently fake comments for six months. The Government Accountability Office is also looking into how a denial-of-service attack may have prevented people from getting their thoughts into the official record.
If the idea behind the plan is bad, the process for commenting on it has been even worse.
Before my fellow FCC members vote to dismantle net neutrality, they need to get out from behind their desks and computers and speak to the public directly. The FCC needs to hold hearings around the country to get a better sense of how the public feels about the proposal.
When they do this, they will likely find that, outside of a cadre of high-paid lobbyists and lawyers in Washington, there isn’t a constituency that likes this proposal. In fact, the FCC will probably discover that they have angered the public and caused them to question just whom the agency works for.
I think the FCC needs to work for the public, and therefore that this proposal needs to be slowed down and eventually stopped. In the time before the agency votes, anyone who agrees should do something old-fashioned: Make a ruckus.