On December 15, 2017, Comcast unveils their new Super Fast Deluxe Internet Package- complete with unrestricted internet speeds, Netflix subscription, and complete social media access- all for the low, low price of $200 per month. Consumers can add on sports and gaming packages including access to ESPN and Xbox Live for only $15 per month more!
Now that’s not the reality, at least for the moment. But on December 14, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether to repeal Obama administration regulations protecting net neutrality. Net neutrality is the concept that all information on the internet should be treated the same, without internet service providers throttling content or slowing down connection speeds to websites. The FCC is made up of five commissioners (one of which serves as the chair). Within the commission, support for net neutrality is divided on partisan lines- the three Republicans on the committee, Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly, are in favor of repealing net neutrality. The two Democrats, Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, support net neutrality. Thus, it is likely that come December 14, the Obama-era provisions ensuring net neutrality will be struck from the books.
Chairman Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, argues that repealing the regulations that ensure net neutrality will only improve the internet through free market economics. He believes that internet service providers will treat consumers fairly––and if they don’t, that the free market will sort the miscreants out. Unsurprisingly, there’s no proof backing up Pai’s claims. Even if the free market could be trusted to treat consumers fairly, internet service providers are not a representation of the free market. ISPs are often monopolies at the local level, with consumers only being able to choose a single company that provides reasonable service to their area. If a monopoly exists, crushing all competition, there is no incentive for the company to be an advocate for the consumer.
Pai claims that there’s no evidence of ISPs violating the principles of net neutrality- even though there are over a dozen accounts of major service providers throttling and blocking content. Of course, ISPs claim that they would never violate the principles of net neutrality, with many going so far as to launch advertising campaigns in support of the policy. But as the death of net neutrality becomes imminent, these promises are fading away. Ars Technica reported on November 29, that Comcast’s pledge to preserve net neutrality no matter the FCC’s ruling disappeared, replaced with wording that makes no mention of not prioritizing internet traffic. Tumblr, once a prominent advocate of net neutrality, was recently acquired by Verizon. Since the purchase, Tumblr has been hemorrhaging its most prominent net neutrality advocates in droves. AT&T’s website, supposedly set up to defend net neutrality, included template letters to Congress and the FCC with statements such as “the FCC’s move to make sure the internet isn’t subject to heavy-handed laws created for the rotary phone is the right first step.” Just to be clear— that’s a statement supporting the abolition of net neutrality that AT&T placed on their pro-net neutrality website.
All of this goes to show that ISPs will not respect the consumer, as Pai claims. Their advertising campaigns in support of net neutrality have been undermined by their actions. The repeal of net neutrality may be inevitable, but for two more weeks we can fight to stop it. Keep the internet free and fair. Call Congress. Call the FCC. Don’t give up.
Graphic by David Giacomini