Trusting Your Internet Service Provider To Handle Net Neutrality Is A Terrible Idea

You Know it. I Know it. Why doesn’t FCC Chairman Pai believe it?
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled his grand plan for net neutrality yesterday and it’s about what you’d expect from this administration. His proposal essentially boils down to rolling back regulations and letting your ISP have at it. It’ll be fine, Pai says. Free market solutions are the answer to everything.

Except it’s not going to be fine. Chairman Pai is asking America to trust internet service providers to do the right thing and if there’s one thing you know about your ISP, it’s that they can’t be trusted. Bills riddled with hidden fees, sneaky data caps, confusing contracts, and speeds that never seem to be as fast as claimed are just the beginning. If the administration and Congress removes the protections that net neutrality currently affords consumers, it’ll change the internet.

Why? Well, let’s just give you a quick primer on what net neutrality actually means. Net neutrality is the concept that there should be equal opportunity for all websites and content providers so the little guy isn’t forced into “a pay to play” situation. To show you how this works, we’ll take an example of something that’s already happening under Chairman Pai’s leadership.

AT&T, who purchased DIRECTV in 2015, began informing customers in 2016 that they could stream DIRECTV NOW on mobile devices without eating into their data cap. Tom Wheeler argued that such an action gave DIRECTV content a virtual fast lane and unfair advantage over other providers like Netflix. Customers might prefer Netflix original content like Stranger Things, but they would be less likely to stream it if AT&T was their provider. Under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the FCC dropped their complaint against AT&T on this matter in February, but the debate lingers.

Are you beginning to see the problem?

Chairman Pai seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the realities of net neutrality. Let’s educate him shall we? Here are just a few of the reasons that allowing the free market to control net neutrality is never gonna work. Like ever.

There’s not enough competition in the market.

One in three households in America has no choice in internet provider. That’s not a competitive marketplace no matter which way Pai tries to paint it. And bigger ISPs have done everything in their power to ensure this continues by blocking access to utility poles, lobbying for state regulations that prohibit muni-networks, and getting the new FCC chairman to give them a lock on underdeveloped broadband areas for the next ten years through the Connect America Phase 2 program.

ISPs have threatened to make businesses pay to play before. They’ll do it again.

Do we need some more examples of all the times this has happened? So many to choose from. But remember that whole tiff between Netflix and Comcast? Let’s take a trip in the way back machine to 2013. Netflix suggested Comcast was slowing throttling speeds for their users and discrepancies in download speeds certainly appeared to support that. By 2014, the two companies had come to an understanding that sounds remarkably like a shakedown. Comcast’s solution: Pay us and we’ll make sure there isn’t any problem with your peerage, okay? Netflix grudgingly agreed. By 2014, Tom Wheeler waded into the fray. No more nonsense, guys. Give Netflix back their lunch money and stop being corporate jerks, Comcast.

“We welcome the FCC’s efforts to bring more transparency in this area,” a Netflix spokesperson tells The Verge. “Americans deserve to get the speed and quality of internet access they pay for.”

Except now, we won’t have Tom Wheeler to save us. Remember when everyone used to hate Tom Wheeler because he wasn’t doing enough to prevent the cable and industry internet from exploiting customers? Those were the days.

It treats the internet as a commodity or product instead of an essential utility.

Last time I looked, the United Nations declared internet access a basic human right. And yet here we are, still arguing over whether it’s a utility. Repeat after me, Chairman Pai. Internet is a basic human right. We use it to connect with our families, research products so they don’t kill us, and get essential information and news updates. We organize communities, participate in activism, and bring about change through the internet. It is not a luxury item. The internet is part of the fabric of our everyday lives and people who don’t have it have less opportunity. To get jobs, to pursue education, and to improve their standard of living.

Many experts believe courts will ultimately overrule the FCC on this decision since Pai would have to prove the regulation had a chilling effect on innovation in the scarce year and a half since its implementation. Spoiler Alert: it hasn’t.

So Chairman Pai is either going to have to get on board with net neutrality or get out of the way. The last time the FCC tried to thwart consumers and threaten the internet, protests brought the agency to its knees.

Want to see the Resistance angry? Take away their internet. You’ve been warned Chairman Pai.

Please send your comments about net neutrality to [email protected] or sign the petition here.

Sign the Petition: save net neutrality in 2017

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