How the Net Neutrality Fight Will Be Waged in 2019

Billshark has long been an advocate of net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. As you know, the Trump administration repealed rules put in place by the Obama administration to protect net neutrality.

Nevertheless, champions of the principle of net neutrality have vowed to keep fighting, and as The Washington Post put it this month:

“The battle over net neutrality is far from over.”

Why net neutrality matters

Net neutrality means that the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all web traffic that comes through their services equally. Under the Obama-era rules put in place by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015, they were not allowed to charge some websites or services more to ensure that their content would be delivered faster. Without regulations in place to prevent it, the behemoth telecom companies (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) would be free to effectively throttle smaller ones, including start-ups, ultimately putting them out of business. Some of the more popular web companies weighing in on the side of net neutrality include Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Reddit, Tinder, Etsy, and TripAdvisor, among many others.

The concept of net neutrality 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 search engines like Google give higher preference to sites that load quickly. Finally, the extra “pay to play” fees will eventually show up on users or consumers’ bills.

In a joint opinion piece on CNET, representatives Nancy Pelosi (CA), Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ), and Mike Doyle (PA) wrote:

“Without the FCC acting as sheriff, it is unfortunately not surprising that big corporations have started exploring ways to change how consumers access the Internet in order to benefit their bottom line.”

Three fronts

But, as we said, activists haven’t given up. The battle in the coming year will be waged on three fronts: in federal court, by the states, and in Congress.

Attorneys general in 22 states and the District of Columbia have joined pro net neutrality consumer groups in suing the FCC to stop the repeal of net neutrality. Arguments in the case are scheduled to begin in the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit court next month.

The suit is based on the question of whether the FCC, under its Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai (a former lawyer for Verizon), had sufficient grounds to change the classification of broadband so soon after the 2015 rules were adopted, according to CNET.

Pai’s FCC transferred oversight of Internet service to another agency with relatively little experience in telecommunications policy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That creates a problem, critics say, because the FCC is empowered to act before harm to consumers occurs, while the FTC can only act after the fact. The FCC move also eliminated several consumer protections and barred states from enacting laws that contradict the FCC’s approach.

In addition, last year more than 30 states moved to implement net neutrality within their borders. California passed the most comprehensive legislation in the nation, which was to take effect this month. But in November the state reached an agreement with the Justice Department to put the law on hold pending the outcome of this case.

Meanwhile, in Congress, a bill to restore net neutrality failed late last month before the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, and Chairman Pai released a statement thanking representatives for “declin[ing] to reinstate heavy-handed Internet regulation,” adding that “the FCC’s light-touch approach is working.” By “light touch” he meant deregulation.

As the tech website, ArsTechnica, pointed out, “Pai didn’t mention a recent case in which CenturyLink temporarily blocked its customers’ Internet access in order to show an ad or a recent research report accusing Sprint of throttling Skype (which Sprint denies).”

Pallone told ArsTechnica, “I question whether or not Chairman Pai understands how Congress works. ... The new Democratic majority will work to restore strong net neutrality rules in the House of Representatives this year.”

Premature gloating

You may have seen some snarky online editorials popping up recently to the effect that “net neutrality is dead and the sky hasn’t fallen.” Of course not. Because the fight isn’t yet over, Big Broadband is on its best behavior—for the moment. But don’t let that fool you. If every option fails and net neutrality is eventually abolished, the giant ISPs will have a free hand, and that’s when you’ll see their true colors. Of course, by then it will be too late. Many consumer groups warn that the death of net neutrality “will be the end of the Internet as we know it.”

Billshark will continue to keep you up to date on this vital matter. In the meantime, let our sharks keep an eye on your bills, and find all the ways you’re being overcharged. We save our customers hundreds and often thousands of dollars a year.

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