Support Net Neutrality

Tomorrow, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether to undo the Open Internet Order, in place since 2015, that requires internet service providers to adhere to “net neutrality.” Take one minute today to try to help save it.

What is net neutrality? This description from Matt Stoller (in The Guardian) is pretty good:

Net neutrality is a rule against censorship and manipulation. It means that if you are a broadband provider, like AT&T, Verizon, or Google Fiber, you cannot discriminate in favor of or against any of your customers. You aren’t allowed to carry the content or data of one website or video provider at one price and the content or data of another website or video provider at a different price. You can’t censor, throttle, or slow the carrying of data for any but technical reasons. 

The aim of net neutrality is to provide individuals and groups with a liberal (in the broad sense of free and equal) infrastructure for online activity.

Getting rid of net neutrality would mean that, in the absence of new regulations, internet service providers would be able to prioritize and speed up internet activity of their most lucrative customers, leaving those of lesser means, such as public schools, libraries, non-profits, small businesses, and the poor with slower or limited access to internet resources and communications tools.

You can voice opposition to rescinding net neutrality by going FCC’s express comment site, filling in your name, entering “17-108” in the “proceedings” box and writing something like “I strongly support net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISPs” in the comment box. It looks like this:

Why are some FCC commissioners in favor of ending net neutrality? There are some worries that they do not understand how the internet works. But to engage the policy question more substantively, here is a helpful discussion from the American Library Association:

Some of the carriers argue that net neutrality is an unnecessary regulation that will stifle competition and slow deployment of broadband technologies. But the truth is there is already only a little competition among broadband providers. In most parts of the U.S., there are at most two companies that provide a broadband pipe to your home: a telephone company and a cable company. Both of these industries are already regulated because they are natural monopolies: once a cable is laid to your house, there really is no rational, non-wasteful reason to lay another cable to your house, since you only need one at a time; therefore, most communities only allow one cable or telephone company to provide service to an area, and then regulate that company so to prevent abuse of the state-granted monopoly. Thus, we don’t allow phone companies to charge exorbitant amounts for local service; nor do we permit a cable company to avoid providing service to poor neighborhoods.

Contrast the quasi-monopoly on broadband pipes with the intensely competitive market of web content and services. There are millions of websites out there and countless hours of video and audio, all competing for your time and money.

With the advent of broadband connections, the telecom and cable companies have found a new way to exploit their state-granted monopoly: leverage it into a market advantage in Internet services and content. This would harm competition in the dynamic, innovative content and services industry without solving the lack of real competition in the broadband access market.

In contrast, net neutrality will encourage competition in online content and services to stay strong. By keeping broadband providers from raising artificial price barriers to competition, net neutrality will preserve the egalitarian, bit-blind principles that have made the Internet the most competitive market in history.

Clearly, the debate could continue and net neutrality may not be perfect (it may even be that the strongest case for net neutrality is that it ameliorates problems created elsewhere in telecom regulation), but time is limited—the vote is tomorrow—and utopia is not an option. So go say something.

There are worries that the commissioners of the FCC do not understand how the internet works.

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