This has been a busy week in the life of the President. Probably the biggest week in my lifetime, with several major bombshells coming out every day. But lurking in the background has been an undoing of a major protection of the Internet.
During the Obama administration the Internet was classified as a Title II service, which makes them similar to a public utility. They provide you service and you have complete access to any website you want. And that access cannot be blocked or impeded beyond the general Internet speed that you pay for. Basically Comcast cannot choose to slow down Netflix or YouTube to a crawl and speed up their own competing service. Today the FCC ended that classification.
Think of Internet service in this way as similar to the electric company. They charge you for the electricity you use and other service fees. But they cannot dictate how you use that electricity. They cannot say “you must buy Joe Blow’s Air Conditioner, because we will not power any other brand of air conditioner. Or maybe they will allow it, but they won’t provide enough electricity to power it on the hottest of summer days.
The reasons these protections are needed is Internet providers are near monopolies everywhere they exist. There are seldom more than one or two options to provide fast Internet service in any given area. You have no choice, so if Company A decides to have terrible business practices there is no alternative you can choose from.
If the Internet Service Providers (Comcast, Time Warner/Spectrum, Verizon get their way, which they just passed a major hurdle in doing so, the Internet will slowly become a much different place. We are already seeing data caps for service in which you are already paying for a set speed. Ultimately the goal is to sell the Internet like cable TV. You buy a package and you can view those websites like channels, or you can pay for the “unlimited plan” which gives you access to the whole Internet Before that, they will likely use the new rules to limit speeds for competing websites. Time Warner who owns CNN may limit speeds or access to view Fox News.
If you think that seems outlandish, it’s not. This was already starting to pop up before the Obama administration outlawed it. Netflix was being throttled, their speed was being restricted so that you couldn’t watch HD by several major ISPs Some of these ISPs were even demanding payments from Netflix to unthrottle their access to their customers.
I won’t even go into the billions of dollars that the US government paid these companies to build out a fiber network in the 1990’s that, they then took the money and refused to build out the network.
Similar to the law passed earlier this year which allowed ISPs to sell your digital information. No one supports these changes except the ISPs themselves, who donate many millions of dollars to political candidates. Not the citizens, not the websites and content makers, only the ISPs. The ISPs with some of the lowest consumer approval rankings of any corporations, because they have no reason to keep the customer happy. They have a monopoly.
The war is not over, and this particular battle has just begun, but without a strong commitment to net neutrality, financial interests will ultimately prevail and the citizen will lose.