Column: The fight for Net Neutrality

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Joseph Adams

Staff reporter

jadams68@jccc.edu

Internet service providers (ISPs) are actively trying to ruin the internet. They started wielding their corporate power in the form of litigation and lobbying and they didn’t stop until Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commision (FCC), and former Verizon lawyer, got rid of net neutrality regulations that were protecting internet consumers. 

Net Neutrality (NN) stopped companies like Comcast, for example, from starting a tv streaming service and then throttling, or slowing down, competing streaming services like Netflix or Hulu so that customers are forced to use the Comcast streaming service. NN rules protected us against these unfair practices. 

There were instances of this happening before net neutrality rules were repealed; T-Mobile created a wallet app called “Isis” and blocked a similar Google Wallet app on T-Mobile phones. T-Mobile also had their “binge on” program which would not use data if users used T-Mobile promoted apps. In 2009 AT&T blocked Skype on iPhones to promote their own video call apps. There is a clear and present need for net neutrality protections. 

An open internet with strong net neutrality rules would keep the control of the internet in the hands of a regulatory body that was designed to protect consumers.  

 ISPs want to bundle certain internet apps the same way cable is bundled, essentially blocking websites until you pay your ISP more money. This is not happening yet, but this is an example of what the internet could look like in a few years if NN rules are not reinstated.  

There is not going to be an instant change to the way the internet operates but ISPs are going to slowly chip away at the open internet until the internet cannot be navigated unless consumers are shelling out a lot more money and dealing with twice as many ads. 

Consumers all over the United States already pay ridiculous prices for broadband if they live in rural areas and the internet speeds are usually awful. ISPs claim that putting infrastructure in those areas is too expensive even though the government already gives ISPs tax dollars to build internet infrastructure in rural areas. ISPs do not care about their customers whatsoever (just ask anyone that has ever called a Comcast or Time Warner customer helpline), and their goal is to slow down the internet and charge as much money as possible. 

In “The Book of Broken Promises,” Bruce A. Kushnick details the history of monolithic ISPs in the United States. ISPs were given $400 billion in tax dollars to build a massive, country wide fiber optics infrastructure to improve internet speeds nationwide and yet the US is way behind other developed nations in internet pricing and speeds. ISPs increase prices and decrease internet speeds, they do it with abandon, and they don’t care. ISPs didn’t invent the internet, they “gatekeep it,” and demand a price for the privilege, they bought in to profit and demand ownership of something they didn’t build or create.  

ISPs started imposing data caps on home internet use. Comcast started data caps in markets where they are the only ISP available to consumers. This unpopular practice was rolled out in areas where consumers had no other choice of ISP, but they get away with it because the internet is essential to modern living. 

NN regulations would at least take away ISPs complete control over the internet, the internet is the most important product—ever and it needs to be protected from corporate greed.  

However, in most cities in the United States consumers have about three choices for an ISP. These companies are monopolies and the attempted Time Warner-Comcast merger shows that four or five companies are trying to completely control the internet and how it is distributed to costumers with little customer protections. They do not have your best interest in mind. 

How and why was net neutrality repealed  

NN was officially started by the Open Internet Order in 2010. This mandated that all internet traffic was equal, and consumers had equal access to the internet, it also set out to protect consumers from abuses by ISPs.  

This was controversial to begin with because many people argued it was too friendly to ISPs and the consumer protections were not strong enough. Almost immediately after these rules were passed Verizon began suing the FCC in a protracted legal battle that would not end until 2014. 

When Verizon fought against internet regulation the people fought back with a demand to reclassify the internet as a common utility with a mandate to give equal access to every American citizen and in 2015 the FCC passes regulations to protect the internet.  

The new rules meant that the government would be able to regulate the internet like a utility, similar to gas or water, and that every citizen deserves equal access to it.  

These regulations angered politicians engorged with ISP lobbying dollars and the ISPs themselves. 

Enter the 2016 election, Donald Trump and Ajit Pai.  

Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, immediately set upon NN rules. There was another comment period with the same amount of outpouring of support to keep the rules, and the comments were completely ignored by Pai and defrauded by bots and other bad actors. 

A recent Stanford study found that of the unique comments on the FCC website, 99.7 percent were in support of NN which the FCC completely ignored to further their own plans dictated to them by ISPs. 

There is a fundamental flaw in our government when former employees of corporations can be hired to positions that regulate the companies they used to work for; it is legal corruption. That is exactly how Ajit Pai got his job. Pai used to work for Verizon and now gets to regulate Verizon; that is a ridiculous premise. How can he be impartial in any way? He has received money from Verizon, there is no way he could fairly regulate matters concerning Verizon.  

Ajit Pai and other prominent senators, like Ted Cruz, invoked Obama’s name to get Republicans to support the repeal of NN, along with millions of lobbying dollars. They described NN as an “Obama-era internet regulation that stifled freedom” — sounds familiar right? These tired arguments tend to work. Opponents of NN were able to use the GOP’s hatred of Obama to get Republican support for a repeal of the regulations even though it is against most customer’s interests and ISPs have been trying to erode internet consumer protections since its creation.  

There were comments left on the FCC site by dead people or living people who did not agree to have their name used, there was even a comment left under Barack Obama’s name.  

Instead of investigating these claims of fraud the FCC used the fake comments as evidence of Americans favoring the repeal and pressed forward anyway.  The Inspector General is currently investigating Pai and the FCC for not taking the proper amount of time to investigate the fraudulent comments left during the FCC open comment period on NN.  

The FCC also falsely claimed their servers were attacked during the comment period which was a lie, an outright lie, but they used that lie to try and invalidate the comments in support of NN. 

In response to the country’s outrage about the NN repeal last year, Ajit Pai released a nearly unwatchable video of him doing the “Harlem shake” and joking about how the internet won’t be ruined. Pai took a smug victory lap in the face of nearly united outrage at his decision that most of the country did not want or vote for, but he does not act in the interest of Americans; he acted in the interest of telecommunication giants that had been his employers for years.  

The fight is not over, of course. 

The current state of the fight for the open internet 

NN has reappeared in the news after firefighters in California had their internet throttled by Verizon because they were using too much data to fight the recent wildfires this past summer.  The only way firefighters could get back fast internet was to pay Verizon more money.  

Verizon did not seem to care about the human lives that were at stake in those fires. The way Verizon behaved is disgusting; again, and again in America “profits over people” is the governing principle. 

Now Verizon has been releasing ads that show firefighters and other first responders using their internet to save lives. It seems their public relations team is working overtime to get ahead of the negative press. It is so transparent, and it is disappointing to watch Verizon continuously getting away with these disgusting consumer abuses.  

Just recently, California passed NN laws, and many other states are following suit, to protect the open internet; however, they were immediately sued by the Justice Department and the ISPs. 

Does the GOP really care about state rights? We have a perfect example of a state exercising the rights given to them under the federalist principles of our constitution, yet they were immediately attacked by the Republican led Justice Department.  

Opponents of NN argued that government regulation would ruin the internet, yet the Justice Department is about to sue the state of California and do exactly that. They are trying to take away the rights of Californians to protect themselves against unfair consumer practices because the Federal Government won’t, and the Trump Administration is attempting to take away those rights.  

Maybe if Trump’s ISP forced him to pay double for Twitter, we would be closer to having net neutrality laws.  

The internet is at a point where it is becoming impossible to live without it. The internet is a fundamental human right like heat, clean water or health care. People are going to buy it no matter what. The internet functions as an educator, it offers medical services, it keeps families together, many utility companies and other government services are increasingly easier to access online, and it does so much more. ISPs know the value of the internet and are doubling it, they want to exploit consumers as much as they can.  

The issue with ISPs is that people do not get to vote with their wallets. If Comcast is the only ISP someone has access to, they must purchase their service. The option becomes, internet or no internet and in a so-called “free market capitalist society,” the lack of consumer choice for internet is unacceptable.  

Corporate mergers of ISPs keep destroying consumers choice until there will be none left, ISPs can throttle whomever they want and charge as much as they want for increasingly poor internet speeds. 

You can fight this by voting, you can fight it by trying to vote with your wallet as much as you can. Vote out Democrats and Republicans alike that support ISPs over their constituents. We need to vote for candidates that support ending the revolving door policies in Washington that give regulatory control of industries to people that have financial conflicts of interest.  

A free and open internet is at stake. Innovation thrives when people have equal access to the internet and that is what ISPs want to take away from us, and once again the rich will benefit over the poor. 

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