When most people hear “Net Neutrality,” I think their eyes glaze over. I get it. It sounds pretty boring. It’s so boring that most media outlets have opted not to talk about it and its possible demise over the last few years. This is unfortunate because the rumors of its demise have become a reality. Net Neutrality is dead.
Using the web could become a lot more expensive, increasing the Digital Divide. Blacks, Latinos and other minorities could lose their best avenue for representing themselves in ways they can’t through mainstream media.
On Jan. 14, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order.
What this means is that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is now free to control the content you see, charge a toll to view premium content and charge businesses a premium for making sure their web content is seen.
Open Internet Order History
So how did we get to this point?
The 1996 Telecommunications Act implemented by congress required the FCC to treat broadband internet access providers as “common carriers.” Companies that fall into this category can’t block or discriminate against content transmitted from your computer over their network.
In 2010, the FCC enacted the Open Internet Order to prevent broadband internet service providers from blocking internet traffic or discriminating against content. This mostly applied to wired connections. Wireless ISPs could still discriminate, but not block websites.
The Order’s goal was to insure a level playing field for anybody using the internet and to prevent corporations from having an unfair advantage.
But in the Open Internet Order, the FCC classified broadband Internet access service as an “information service,” meaning that the law sees a company providing such a service as a content provider like CNN or Netflix. As such the FCC could no longer stop ISPs from blocking or discriminating against online content. This loophole, so big a Mack truck could drive through it, didn’t go unnoticed.
In September 2013, Verizon sued to repeal the FCC’s protections, and the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order this week. Why not? Verizon had a point. The Order classified ISPs as content providers or “Information Services,” not telecommunications services providers. The following is from the court’s ruling:
“Given that the Commission[FCC] has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.”
Basically the FCC tied their own hands in regards to monitoring the ISPs. Why did they classify ISPs as “information services?” My guess is pressure from cable lobbyists. Michael Powell, the FCC Chairman when broadband internet services were classified as “Information Services,” later became a lobbyist for the cable industry.
Fallout of This Ruling
Without the Open Internet Order, ISPs can start nickel and diming you to death to access certain content on the web, basically acting like cable companies, which most of them are.
You want Netflix or Amazon? AT&T may charge you a premium cost for that. If you’re a Time Warner customer, you may not be able to get to Netflix because TW wants you to watch shows on their cable channels instead. Thinking about publishing something controversial? Verizon might decide to delete it. Web-based businesses could be charged extra to make sure their site is seen or mobile app is usable—giving companies like Google, Amazon and Netflix an advantage.
Then there’s the privacy issue. Remember, these companies have data on the sites you use, among other things.
I’m not exaggerating about the intentions of these companies. The ISPs will jump on this as fast as Republican states implemented restrictive voter laws after the 2013 SCOTUS ruling weakened the Voter Rights act.
Broadband companies have already attempted to block or restrict content or mobile apps. In 2007 Comcast was found to be blocking downloads of the Bible. AT&T has restricted Apple’s FaceTime and Google Hangouts for its wireless customers. When Verizon sued the FCC, one of the things they claimed was to have “editorial discretion” over the information that’s transmitted across their networks.
The FCC can reclassify broadband internet services as telecommunications services used only to connect to and transmit information across the internet. The FCC would then be able to prohibit companies like Verizon or Time Warner from blocking websites or discriminating against content or mobile apps.
What can you do? Sign the petition to get the FCC to reclassify the ISPs, speak out on Black Twitter or whatever forum you use.
The death of net neutrality is a big deal. Don’t let this be brushed under the carpet like the Trayvon Martin or Marrisa Alexander cases would have been if it weren’t for folks taking to twitter and other social media, protesting and talking about the injustice, until the mainstream media couldn’t ignore them.
The internet is a place where minorities and the poor have a chance to speak as loudly as the big corporation or to get ahead in the world because they have some great business idea. Let’s not let that get taken away.