Originally published on 10/6/17.
With North Korea being criticized by most Americans for extreme Internet censorship, it’s a wonder our own country debates so heatedly about net neutrality. You might be keeping up with Trump and net neutrality, and you might have some questions. Should the Internet be granted open access as a public utility, or should its speed and availability be at the mercy of the most powerful Internet Service Providers (ISP’s)? Is the value of the internet based upon the rights of citizens to communicate, or simply upon privileges afforded by competitive ISP innovation?
There might be truth in both sides, but as things stand now, it’s best if net neutrality is a priority for consumers (us). I’ll explain below.
Let’s start in 1934. That year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established to regulate the telecommunications industry. The government could then ensure consumers were granted open and fair access to wire and radio communication across the country by “centralizing authority.” Basically, they called phone service a public utility.
After the eventual rise of the Internet, the 1996 Telecommunications Act enters the foray. President Bill Clinton and the FCC determined phone providers to be “common carriers” and required them to “unbundle” their services, in order to maintain the right to open communication. Interestingly, Clinton separated information services (the Internet) away from public telecommunications and into the private sector to intentionally allow the technology of major Internet providers to grow freely.
This means that ISP’s have actually had almost twenty years of economic freedom to compete. When they started implementing different Internet speeds for different websites (even if they publicly denied it), it was clear they were becoming too powerful. How did the government respond? With net neutrality and regulation of these business giants. After 2 failed attempts to pass legislation opening up equal Internet access, the FCC succeeded by calling the Internet a “common carrier” under Title II of the 1934 Act.
Unfortunately, this progressive move was overturned by the Trump administration this year. In the spring of 2017, Trump signed legislation to begin giving the power of the Internet back to the ISP’s. At this point, we all started paying more attention to Trump and net neutrality.
Reasons For & Against
Republicans at this point are proud of Trump’s appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (who was previously a lawyer for Verizon, a major ISP). Pai has taken a hard stance against net neutrality, arguing that investments wouldn’t be made in the infrastructure of network providers when under government control. (Contrary to this stance, the major ISP’s AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have all reported an increase in network infrastructure post 2015’s net neutrality legislation. So that’s interesting.) There have also been right-wing complaints that government Internet regulation is a way of spreading “fake news.”
By the way, I find it ironic that a president who values tweeting so much would support constricted internet access. Trump and net neutrality really don’t seem to understand one another.
Democrats, of course, are concerned with the Trump administration’s moves. The best voice of reason in this fight is Senator Markey (D – Mass.). “Instead of preserving a free and open Internet, Chairman Pai and the Trump FCC are taking steps to restrict innovation, economic growth, and democratic expression by voting to roll back net neutrality rules.” Prioritizing freedom of websites and information means prioritizing freedom of education for all consumers. Net neutrality is key for that.
Reactions In The Tech World
Tech companies and streaming services have responded with valiant efforts to free Internet highways from ISP’s. On July 12, 2017, a “Day of Action” was planned Internet-wide to participate in standing up against Trump’s policies on net neutrality – BIG companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, E-bay, Dropbox, Twitter, and dozens more. Netflix is known as a vocal advocate since its tweet, “Netflix will never outgrow the fight for #NetNeutrality. Everyone deserves an open Internet.”
In September, many websites posted “spinning wheels of death” when visited, prompting users to wait for the site to load as they read about how slowly the Internet would work without net neutrality. The online fight for Internet independence still goes, and anyone can still take action here.
What It Means For Consumers
The most important takeaway from any political argument is awareness – it’s now up to each of us to stay informed about the future of the Internet in the States. Read more to discuss more. Net neutrality is the only way our freedom of communication will be maintained. Republicans may argue that unregulated ISP’s can be reigned in by voluntary ethics protocols, but has any major corporation in existence ever cared about anything more than its own bottom line?
Nonetheless, even if Democrats earn a win for consumer rights, we should continue to monitor our government’s regulation. We’ve seen the negative effects of constricted access in countries like North Korea, so it remains a priority to check the FCC’s laws as time goes on.
I think we can all agree, though, the power of Internet access should stay in the hands of the consumer – not ISP’s or the government. Trump and net neutrality should be nothing for us to worry about.