As the average user of The Grand Internets, most people probably don’t know what Net Neutrality is. That’s because Net Neutrality has allowed the average person with access to the Internet to surf the gnarly web waves with ease. The Internet today is a vast wilderness of websites that pretty much anyone can access without the help of a skilled wilderness guide or even a compass. We never even notice how easy it is to navigate.
Wow. The mixed metaphors in that paragraph were impressive.
But all that is ending. The free and wild Internet, that is. Mixed metaphors are probably here to stay. Nobody tell my college creative writing professors.
Net Neutrality is over and this could affect everyone. So what is Net Neutrality anyway?
Net neutrality is the philosophy that all Internet data is to be treated equally by Internet providers, such as Cox, AT&T, Time Warner, and Verizon. It means, no matter what (even if it is competing with AT&T’s communication services), the provider cannot block traffic to any kind of website, platform, application, etc. (source)
Until recently, your Internet provider had to provide you equal service to any and all Internet sites, whether you’re binging on Doctor Who on Netflix, downloading porn, or reading blogs. Unless you’re trying to look at blocked sites at work, you can essentially access any site on the Internet you want without a change of Internet speed or paying more for popular sites. This is because of Open Internet rules, set by the FCC.
The three main Open Internet rules ensure that all providers must be honest with how they deal with Internet traffic, prohibit broadband operators from blocking legal content on their networks, and disallow “unreasonable discrimination against traffic on their networks.” (source)
Cue our friend Verizon, which has been fighting the rules since their inception, saying that, “the FCC had no authority from Congress to impose such rules and that the rules stymied its First Amendment rights.” Right, because corporations have First Amendment Rights. You can thank our old friend Mitt Romney for that one.
What does that even mean? Well it boils down to what is called a “common carrier” (a company that offers its services to the general public while under constrictions by regulatory agency) and the FCC thinks because companies, like Verizon, own wires that run through public and private land, the FCC wants them to be under the same constrictions as an electric company, a phone company, or anyone else using public land for their own monetary gain.
Well Verizon doesn’t think it should be considered a common carrier because the Internet isn’t a “necessary service.” Pardonnez-moi, Verizon, but for many of us, the Internet is completely fucking necessary. Ahem. Pardon my French.
So, thanks to Verizon, everything changed last Tuesday, when the Federal Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that the FCC based its three rules on a “flawed legal argument” and that it shouldn’t have power over broadband providers. Since the FCC treats broadband providers differently than telecommunications providers, it can’t use rules that pertain to both.
“So the fracking frack what?”, you say. “Who cares what the FCC does to Verizon?” I’ll tell you what, friends. I’ll tell you.
The biggest area of concern is how we access the Internet in the future. It’s all speculation at this point, but we can reasonably predict that broadband carriers will want more money for higher bandwidth sites. What will that look like? We don’t know.
Maybe carriers like Verizon and Comcast will charge sites like Netflix or Hulu more and those sites will pass the charges onto us lucky consumers.
Maybe paying for the Internet will look more like paying for your cable TV, paying a smaller fee for a basic package and paying more for more premium packages.
And, most worrisome, is that smaller websites or start-ups would never be able to afford the bandwidth in order to compete with the larger companies. The general public would essentially be censored from these sites and they would run super slow anyway.
No more Lefty Pop. No more small blogs. No more free flow of ideas. Those who can pay get to provide information and ingest information. The Internet has been a communication revolution and all that may come to a crashing halt.
This does affect our First Amendment rights as citizens, corporations be damned, and major corporations will have complete control over the Internet.
As if we didn’t already live in an oligarchy. That’s your word of the day, kids. Try to use it in a sentence today, perhaps when you’re talking to your friends or calling your Congressman about Net Neutrality. This isn’t over and we still have a voice.