Regardless of your political leanings, the Trump administration just fired the first shots against net neutrality which should cause alarm for everyone. Trump tapped Ajit Pai to take the helm of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who has already begun his assault on a free Internet. Obama era consumer protection regulations are in the sights of Pai, who is working feverishly to change the way everyone interacts with the Internet.
What is Net Neutrality and Why is It Important?
Net Neutrality, at its core, is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of source or user. It also means that ISPs should not favor, promote, or block content and websites so long as they are operating within the law. This is incredibly important to maintain because we now live in an information age. No individual should have limited or cut access to the internet or any of its content solely based on income or geographic location. This is especially true considering that the UN has declared internet access a universal Human Right. In short, any attack on net neutrality is and should be treated as an attack on your personal rights as a human being.
What Has Pai Done and What are the Ramifications?
Most of the orders and directives which are weakening net neutrality’s legal position have been largely kept from the public, without releasing public statements on why or what these directives were. Luckily we have consumer rights and telecom advocacy groups to keep watch. The first shots were aimed at rules designed to ensure equal access to the internet. One directive stopped nine ISPs from providing discounted broadband access to low income households. Another aims to increase the phone call rates of prisons (which will cost the taxpayer more money than anyone else). Having only been in office for a few weeks, Pai has made his stance very clear: the FCC will side with corporations rather than the public.
This may be most apparent in the vote last Thursday which eliminated internet transparency protections for millions of consumers across the United States. This means that many ISPs no longer will need to provide information about speeds, prices, and fees for broadband services. This limits a consumer’s ability to make an informed choice about the products they are purchasing. This opens the door for high profile companies with strong lobby presences in the Capital to practice favorable and discriminatory (see definition of net neutrality above) strategies to confuse, mislead, and -quite possibly- overcharge the consumer.
These directives and orders also set worrying precedent. As Thursday’s vote was a clear signal that the FCC is in the corner of ISP giants, these companies may become emboldened in pushing their anti net neutrality agendas further. While I understand a company looking to maximize its profits, we need to refocus the way we think about the Internet. The UN has called it a Human Right. If utility companies which provide water, electricity, gas, and so forth suddenly had many regulations pulled back on them and they began to act even half as belligerently as these ISPs are, we would cry foul. The internet is not a product, it is our right.
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