Net neutrality is a clumsy phrase used to describe a concept vital to an open Internet. Simply put, it means that giant corporations who own Internet delivery services—also known as Internet Service Providers or ISPs—should not be able to slow down or even choke off their competitors’ content. In other words, the free flow of all Internet content should not be restrained by a company’s desire or ability to do so.
The Obama administration agreed with this view and in 2015 put rules in place to sustain net neutrality. Now those rules are in jeopardy under the new administration.
Ajit Pai, formerly a lawyer for Verizon and now the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), wants to repeal net neutrality. This month he unveiled a plan to roll back current regulations, claiming that, “The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re going to get.”
This, in a nutshell, is the essence of the Trump administration’s argument against net neutrality: that the Obama-era regulations will discourage broadband investment. John Oliver, however, in his weekly HBO program “Last Week Tonight,” recently countered that argument by playing a Dec. 9, 2014 audio clip from Francis J. Shammo, Executive VP and CFO of Verizon.
Speaking of the then-pending Obama FCC regulations, Shammo told Verizon’s investors, “I mean, to be real clear, I mean, this does not influence the way we invest. I mean, we’re going to invest in our networks and platforms, both in wireless and wireline Fios and where we need to. So nothing will influence that.”
More recently, Mark Stodden of Moody’s Investors Service, who analyzes such telecom companies as Verizon and AT&T, told the Associated Press, “From where we sit, the overall level of investment in the business is still pretty strong.” He added, “I hear companies complaining about net neutrality and Title II [the regulation the Obama administration used to implement net neutrality in 2015], but I think it’s a cop-out. I don’t think they’re actually spending less. They don’t like it, so they complain about it.”
And why are they complaining? Because stifling competition is always the go-to move for big businesses. Less competition means more business, and if you’re strong enough to choke out nearly all your competition, so much the better. You don’t have to compete on price, quality, or service if you’re pretty much the only game in town.
Several high-profile ISPs, including Comcast and Charter Communications, took out a full-page ad which ran in several major newspapers this May, claiming that “we do not block, throttle or otherwise impair your online activity,” although Oliver’s segment on the subject showed that it has already happened. And on May 23, an open-Internet group called Fight for the Future reported that Comcast is threatening legal action against them, issuing a cease-and-desist order claiming the group’s website is infringing on Comcast’s trademark.
“If Ajit Pai’s plan is enacted, there would be nothing preventing Comcast from simply blocking sites like (ours) that are critical of their corporate policies,” said Even Greer, Fight for the Future’s campaign director.
So the net-neutrality wars go on. Billshark will continue to keep you updated on this battle to maintain your unfettered access to everything you want to see on the Internet. Meanwhile, you can register a comment with the FCC, and contact your elected representatives to let them know what you think about this important issue.