At its Dec. 14 meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to roll back rules put in place by the previous administration insuring that all Internet traffic is treated equally.
As Billshark previously reported, net neutrality maintains what the Internet has always been: a free and open-to-all avenue for communication. Net neutrality prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from creating so-called “fast lanes” that provide better service to content creators or web companies that pay extra fees. It also means that ISPs can’t discriminate based on content; for example, slowing your streaming of “House of Cards” because it’s streamed by a video company that competes with your ISP.
In practice net neutrality means that everything you want to access on the Internet, from streaming video to audio, should be just as available to you as to any user of the Internet. Net neutrality also means the ISPs can’t discriminate against start-ups and entrepreneurs, who can’t afford to pay the premium fees to get faster broadband service. Just because you’re not a wealthy corporation shouldn’t mean your Internet traffic suffers.
Another related area of net neutrality is what is known as “zero rating.” With this practice, the ISP offers its customers discounts on a few selected apps and websites, and excludes the rest of the Internet. Thus, according to IT news site ZDNET, “Your ISP, not you, decides what websites and apps and streaming services you can afford.”
Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced he would circulate the proposed new rules among the full commission prior to the next month’s vote. Before his appointment by the current administration, Pai was a vocal opponent of net neutrality, which he calls “micromanaging the Internet.” With a 3-2 majority on the FCC backing Pai, the passage of net neutrality rollback is certain.
“This move would likely lead to consumers paying higher prices for the Internet access and speeds they have today,” Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, told the Los Angeles Times.
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted in favor of net neutrality in 2015, called again for public hearings before the vote, but none have been scheduled.
However, over the past six months there have been millions of comments submitted to the FCC website. In a curious twist, The Washington Post reported last week that possibly hundreds of thousands of those comments were fake.
According to The Post, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a letter last week to the FCC, charged that “hundreds of thousands of” submissions may have impersonated New York residents. His investigation, he said, had turned up submissions from dead people, along with those of living residents who claimed their names had been attached to comments they never sent. In another peculiar development in the story, Rosenworcel reported that some 50,000 consumer complaints appear to have disappeared from the agency’s records, The Post reported.
Some activists opposing the new rules hope these revelations could spur Congress to delay the vote, but that’s unlikely given that the current majority in Congress is from the same party that favors the rule change. Since the rules are likely to pass, Evan Greer, campaign director for the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post that the furor over fake comments could benefit supporters of the rule in any legal challenge to the new rules.
“It’s all about Congress for right now,” said Greer. “But [the issue of the fake and vanished comments] will absolutely show up in court if we get there.”
Activist groups plan a nationwide protest at Verizon Communications Inc., retail stores on Dec. 7. Verizon—along with T-Mobile, AT&T, and others—is one of the telecom companies which has been lobbying hard to overturn net neutrality. Pai was formerly an attorney for Verizon.
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