Net Neutrality Isn’t Dead Yet

As part of Billshark’s never-ending campaign to watch out for your wallet in every venue, we have reported before on the fate of net neutrality, the concept that forbids powerful Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from slowing the Internet traffic of their competitors. And now we have an update on this vital topic.

To recap: In 2015, the Obama administration put in place rules mandating that the big telecommunication companies, including Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, must treat all web traffic that comes through their services as equal. They were not allowed to charge some websites or services more to ensure that their content be delivered faster.

This concept is critical to maintaining fair access to all. For example, if large services such as Yelp or eBay were allowed to pay ISPs to have their sites delivered faster (known as “fast lanes” vs. “slow lanes,” or in the vernacular of the telecoms, “paid prioritization”), that would put smaller services and websites at a disadvantage, since they couldn’t afford to pay those fees. Not only would their websites load more slowly, potentially frustrating visitors, but it would affect their ability to be found during Internet searches, because the search engines like Google give higher preference to sites that load quickly. Finally, the extra “pay to play” fees will eventually show up on consumers’ bills.

A side note: One commenter on this issue wrote: “I’d gladly pay more for faster Internet.” This is not the same concept as net neutrality. Different ISPs offer different upload and download speeds, as Billshark reported last year in unveiling our speed test. Delivery speed is based on the ISPs’ infrastructure. Slow uploads and downloads can also be impacted by your computer, your router, or other devices connecting to the Internet. This is an infrastructure issue, not a power one. On the other hand, net neutrality prevents ISPs from deliberately slowing websites that don’t pay extra for preferential treatment.

In December of last year, the Trump administration moved to end net neutrality guaranteed under the Obama administration rules. Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the telecoms’ activity on the Internet, called the Obama-era rules “heavy-handed government regulation.” “Under my proposal,” Pai said at the time, “the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet.”

A host of consumer advocates have joined with such Internet firms as Facebook and Google, as well as numerous states’ attorneys general, to fight last year’s FCC’s action.

And just last week, the Senate approved a resolution on a bipartisan vote (49 Democrats and three Republicans) to reinstate the principle of net neutrality.

Prior to last week’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, “The repeal of net neutrality is not only a blow to the average consumer, but it is a blow to public schools, rural Americans, communities of color, and small businesses. A vote against this resolution will be a vote to protect large corporations and special interests, leaving the American public to pay the price.”

This vote may ultimately be largely symbolic, however, because the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not support net neutrality, nor does President Trump. Republicans say they are developing their own proposal to address the issue, which they plan to unveil in coming weeks.

Sen. John Thune, (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the FCC, called the Senate vote “political theater.” “Despite this vote, I remain committed to finding a path to bipartisan protections for the Internet and stand ready to work with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle when they are ready as well,” he told The Washington Post.

The Obama-era rules are scheduled to end on June 11 of this year, so time is running out.

Sen. Brian Schatz, (D-HI), told CNET before the vote, “This is a turning point in the movement [to retain net neutrality]. What we need to do to change Internet policy and restore net neutrality is vote, vote, vote.”

Meanwhile, send us your bills. You’ll be amazed at how much money Billshark will be able to save you: hundreds, even thousands of dollars every year!

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