net neutrality

Whether you have been aware of it or not there has been a lot of talk lately about net neutrality. Its a term that’s getting thrown around more than pies at a clown convention, but what does it really mean? Well, in very basic terms, Net Neutrality refers to the idea that the flow of information on the internet should be treated fairly and equally. It means that no company has the right to restrict or slow down your access to certain sites, prioritize certain internet services over others, or limit the kind of content a user can see based upon political or other biases. After all, we pay for our Internet bill, therefore we should be allowed to decide what and when we see something… At least that’s the way it is supposed to work in theory.

-For more FAQs, check out the Save the Internet site.

Reach for the Cloud and Give me All Your Money
And that is how most people think the Internet works: You pay your bill and then you can go on whatever website you want. Additionally, If you live alone, you assume that you’re the only one using the Internet -unless Todd is parked outside stealing your wifi again- So, if you have the browser clicked over to Amazon, or you are watching Hulu, or whatever you assume that all your bandwidth power is being directed to that one site. Yet, in the past, Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon have artificiality slowed down certain sites, most notably Netflix. They have basically tried to extort money from large Internet companies, like Amazon, YouTube, and Netflix. In a world without net neutrality, if a company doesn’t pay, then the ISPs can slow their access down to a crawl, which means that when you’re streaming Die Hard 5 -or a good movie- you will keep losing video quality and buffering speed. Worst of all, who does the customer blame? Not Comcast. No they blame Netflix, even though its not their fault.

Netflix has already paid Comcast their blood money to ensure that their service will not have their speeds restricted. Netflix paid Comcast for the right to not be restricted. They didn’t pay for priority access. They didn’t pay for their service to be faster than others. They only paid so as to not be restricted. That would be like you paying extra for food, not because it was better or served faster than other food, but just to ensure that the cook doesn’t decide to drop cyanide in it… And do not mistake our meaning. Without net neutrality, this type of behavior is cyanide to the freedom of the Internet.

This is all possible, because large ISPs like Comcast and Verizon basically form an oligopoly. It’s like a monopoly except there is no singular man with a top hat and monocle buying Park Place. Instead, it would be like if the battleship, the dog, and the race car decided to split the board equally and charge the same prices to everyone to use their services. They are no longer competing, because once a year they get together and decide to raise their prices or change their services equally, and what can most homes -or hotels- do about it? Comcast and Verizon own and lay the fiberoptic cables that carry the Internet. Most places in the country literally don’t have a choice in who their Internet service provider is. It’s similar to the electric and gas companies, except that those services are regulated by the government. ISP’s are 100% private, and now they are pushing for even more freedom, but freedom to them amounts to tyranny for the Internet.

Honk if You’re Angry
They have tried this before, but were stopped by net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama Administration. Now, with a new orange sheriff in town, and his appointed head of the FCC, former Verizon lawyer and all-around-frat-boy-who-thinks-he’s-the-most-hilarious-you’ve-ever-met, Ajit Pai, those rules are being slowly undone in favor of major ISPs. up until now, Comcast and Verizon were classified by the Federal Communications Commission as Common Carriers. Its a legal definition that applies mostly to phone companies, -which Verizon and Comcast also are- and both companies, as well as lesser known ISPs, have basically been happy to be classified as such for the past few decades. After all, being a common carrier comes with certain protections, but it also comes with certain restrictions, most notably the rule that common carriers cannot prioritize one communication over another. A phone company can’t charge an automated calling company more to prioritize their phone calls over your Aunt Phyllis. However, ISPs have been arguing for a while that they aren’t common carriers, because they claimed they were carrying information and not communication.

If Chairman Pai has his way, ISPs could start charging content providers or even customers directly for services that were otherwise free. You want access to YouTube? That will be $4.99 additional. Do you want access to Facebook or Twitter? Get the social media package for an additional $8.99 a month. It will appear automatically on your bill. Regardless of whether ISPs charge the customers or the content providers, the cost will eventually get passed along to the consumer. That means higher costs, longer download times, and -if it gets bad enough- you will start to see a lot of the Internet’s more innovative and free sites fall by the wayside. The death of net neutrality also hinders growth, because small businesses would not be able to compete if they can’t afford the same priority access as larger and well established companies. Websites… like this own… have the most to lose under this ruling.

Larger companies also have a lot to lose. Sites like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube provide services which directly compete with services already provided by the ISPs -or cable companies as they used to be called- If net neutrality dies, ISPs can slowly strangle those services to death, and if enough customers stop using Netflix than that is another win for the cable companies. Remember, for an additional cost they can provide a customer with hundreds of channels of TV to watch, and premium movie channels for an additional cost, and DVR functions for an additional cost, etc… Have you ever looked at your cable bill and wondered why your Internet cost was the most expensive item on it? It’s because Verizon and Comcast want you to use their cable services, and all the little extras you can buy. The Internet is a flat fee for them, which means the only revenue they get from it is that monthly charge. There are no extras or add-on packages -at least not yet- and they can charge whatever they want for it, because there is no competition. It’s ironic we have started calling them Internet Service Providers, because from where we stand they are still just cable companies trying the same old tricks they always have. Yet, whatever you want to call them, make sure you call them Common Carriers.

Go FCC Yourself
Striking down net neutrality runs parallel to everything the Internet has accomplished up until now. Our freedom and our future are being strangled by the greed of corporations. Most people who should be outraged by all of this, barely even know its going on. America’s future prosperity is inescapably linked with the prosperity of the world wide web and our ability to access it freely and fairly. If we let net neutrality slip away the future is going to be a less bright, less free, and filled to the brim with that frustrating loading symbol. Today is net neutrality day, and it is being championed by websites across the Internet, both big and small. Everyone from Google to The NYRD is fighting for the idea that the Internet is free and fair, but we need your help.

In short, ISPs are trying to turn the information superhighway into a one-lane game board where they control all the spaces. -Do not pass Go, pay us $200- If you want to help, then contact the FCC and let them know your thoughts on the Restoring Internet Freedom Act. These ISPs have the money, the lobbyists, and the time to make their voices heard. We need to make our voices heard, and let the people in Washington know why it is a terrible terrible terrible terrible idea to do away with net neutrality. Use the links below to contact the FCC. However, Chairman Pai has vowed to ignore the public’s comments on this subject, so make sure you contact your congressional representatives as well.

Comment form for proceeding 17-108 “Resoring Internet Freedom”
Contact your Representatives