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The good news is that the super-secret vote announcement to abolish Net Neutrality that was scheduled for November 22 was picked up by mainstream media. The bad news, however, is that the vote date is December 14. That means that, in just under a week, we could be talking about the end of the Internet as we know it.
What abolishing Net Neutrality could mean for the Internet
If the FCC acts to gut net neutrality – as its chairman Ajit Pai claims he wants to do – then we could be looking at a very different Internet in 2018. For one thing, Internet Service Providers (such as the big cable companies) will be empowered to do all sorts of things that will “break” the Internet. The Internet has always been about providing free and democratic access to all content providers and users, not about purposely slowing down traffic or blocking websites that aren’t paying extra for access – but that’s exactly what they will be able to do if the FCC guts net neutrality.
For example, in the Philadelphia area, Comcast’s XFINITY service could decide to charge customers more for Internet service that promises “extra fast” connection speeds. However, that move might be too aggressive and brazen even for Comcast, so more likely, it would begin to charge companies like Netflix – which represents a staggering amount of total Internet traffic these days – special “fees” or “tolls” to get access to the fast lane of the Internet superhighway. If Netflix fails to pay this fee, then its users would experience tremendous problems with streaming movies and shows. (If you’ve ever tried to stream a movie over a slowpoke Wi-Fi connection, you know this is going to cause major problems)
Wait, the FCC couldn’t possibly believe what it’s saying, right?
You can think of abolishing net neutrality as capitalism run amok. It will give monopolists and duopolists even greater power to apply the financial squeeze on anyone using the Internet. However, as you might imagine, FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been careful to frame this issue in terms of “innovation and entrepreneurship” vs. “bureaucracy and heavy-handed regulation.” (Optics matter, even for government czars) If you’ve seen his tweets or seen his appearances on cable TV, then it’s clear that he thinks he’s on the right side of history.
From Pai’s perspective, the new, enlightened FCC (with tacit support from the Trump White House) is working to end the evils of Obama-era regulation. By ending Net Neutrality, Pai thinks he will be opening up the Internet to more innovation and creativity. The big cable companies will suddenly have a new source of revenue (all those tolls and fees) to pay for a massive 5G Internet build out. Entrepreneurs will appear out of nowhere, eager to create content for this massively new and fast Internet. America will have the fastest, greatest Internet in the entire world!
Of course, that’s the same logic that suggests turning the environment over to the big oil companies and de-regulating the whole hydrocarbon industry will result in a cleaner, more energy-independent America. It’s the same logic that suggests that “big business” is inherently smarter and wiser than “big government.”
What’s really at stake with Net Neutrality
The important point in all this is to realize that Net Neutrality is not about whether you’re pro-Trump or anti-Trump. It’s not about whether you’re in favor of “freedom and democracy” (c’mon, who the heck is not?). And it’s not about whether you’re in favor of “innovation and entrepreneurship” (again, who isn’t?) It’s really about whether or not the government in Washington is “by and for the people” and not just for lobbyists and special interests.
The people have spoken loudly – they want Net Neutrality. The cable companies and their cronies can do all they can to pretend that they are on the right side of history, but the people have spoken. If Washington decides to break the Internet on December 14 and ignore the wishes of the people, we’ll be talking about the FCC’s “Christmas surprise” for decades to come. Ajit Pai, you have been warned.