It is official: Net Neutrality has taken the largest blow to date, and it may very well cause the death of the concept for the foreseeable future. Last Thursday the FCC voted 2-1 to begin rolling back Obama-era regulations on internet service provider (ISP) classification under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. I’ve been going on about this a few different times now, but it is important that we understand the debate and what the implications of this decision may be.
What was Title II classification anyway?
Essentially the Title II classification in the Communications Act of 1934 restricted the services of certain industries which carry that classification to the same standards and practices that the government holds utility industries. This means that your Internet provider would be subject to the same anti-monopoly and consumer protections that you would expect from your water and electricity providers. In short, it keeps businesses that provide basic standard of living services to citizens of the United States from acting completely inappropriately.
But should Internet access really be a utility?
I argue: yes. In 2011, the United Nations recognized the inherent power that access to the internet provided and adopted the idea that access to the internet is a basic human right. This means that all nations, including the United States, that have signed on to the UN Human Rights agreements and treaties should do their best to have unimpeded access to the internet. While the most recent FCC decision does not overtly deny access to the internet, it certainly does its best to hinder quality to many aspects of the internet. We might as well call it “TimeWarner-Net” or “Comcast-Net” depending on your ISP.
Let’s frame the issue in a different way. Roads in the United States facilitate quick and easy access to other parts of the nation, state, or city. Good road maintenance is a must for workers to get to work and do their jobs. Consumers too need roads to go to shops, schools, restaurants. It is a necessity.
If there were competing maintenance companies with various commercial interests with other businesses, they could keep some roads well maintained while either passively or actively allowing other roads that are used by or lead to competitor businesses fall into disrepair. Government relations keep various institutions from playing these sorts of damaging games with necessities.
The worst case scenario
Usually I like to recuse myself from eschatological cries, but sadly the worst case scenario is not so outlandish. In the same way that our road analogy showed a situation where companies could drive behavior by maintaining and ignoring -or hurting- various routes, the very same could be done with your free speech.
Net Neutrality means that all traffic and data on the internet is treated the same. It is what allows smaller companies to compete with the big ones online. It allows for new blood into the economy. It also guarantees that your free speech online is protected. In a worst case situation, an ISP could partner with a government party or institution to quell speech, posts, and websites that they did not agree with or care for by simply leaving the routes to that site unmaintained.
We at the Merkle support net neutrality and will continue to follow this story for you and do our best to protect your rights where possible.
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