Internet must remain open for everyone
With the Federal Communication Commission’s decision on net neutrality expected during its Dec. 14 meeting, the world now waits to see how the Trump administration will react to millions of people, as well as tech giants, digital rights advocates and some of its own members demanding the internet remain open and free.
For nearly a year, everyone from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to John Oliver have been raising awareness about net neutrality, which, without getting too wonky, essentially means that internet service providers like Verizon and Cox can’t charge more to access certain content, block websites, etc.
The controversy stems back a few years, involving a 'recategorization' of internet regulation under the Obama administration, a lawsuit by Verizon against the government and the appointment of a new FCC head. The new head is anti-regulation and, coincidentally enough, was once a lawyer for Verizon.
In other words, it’s a big mess. It boils down to whether the public wants private companies to have control over the internet and how it’s accessed, or whether the internet is regarded as a public utility, like water or telephones, that needs government oversight.
Without that oversight, it's possible that internet service providers could block students from research materials some may find offensive, charge more for news stories on topics that might be unfavorable to investors or completely shut out a competitors’ content altogether.
Naysayers contend that would never happen, but in a dog-eat-dog tech world where proprietary information is protected with countless safeguards and corporate espionage is commonplace, it is hard to believe that some companies don’t do anything to increase profits.
Plus, if these huge corporations are already supporting an open internet, as many claim, there is no reason they should fear public oversight, which could ensure they are delivering the best available product to their customers at the best possible price.
Net neutrality enjoys more than 75 percent approval ratings from across the political spectrum, according to a poll this summer by Freedman Consulting. Still, ISPs have spent hundreds of millions lobbying Congress and the public for relaxed regulations, which they argue hurt investments and competition.
However, small and mid-sized ISPs counter by pointing out there is already little competition. Here in Tucson, customers know they don’t have many options when it comes to internet service. Letting big corporations write their own rules wouldn’t change that.
And about that hurt business? Comcast earned $2.3 billion in net profits during the last three months of 2016, a 16.5 percent bump from 2015, according to the company. Verizon said it had a decrease, but still made $4.5 billion in net profits and retained its top spot in the wireless market.
With large ISPs raking in billions in profits every year, the argument that they need less regulation in order to be profitable or spurn investment is downright laughable.
The internet, with all of its unlimited and nearly unfathomable potential, is far too powerful and vital to trust in the hands of a few corporations that already control so much of how information is accessed and used.
The current rules governing net neutrality fall under the Communications Act of 1934, an era when technologies, like the internet and wireless communication, could not be foreseen by those writing the guidelines.
The ideal solution would be to draft completely new laws, with all vested parties taking a seat at the table. They can agree to rules that are workable to ISPs and tech companies while, most importantly, best serving the public.
But with the FCC hamstrung by the 2014 Supreme Court ruling and Congress currently unable to pass any sort of meaningful legislation, the responsibility lies with the FCC. For now, they will determine how the internet is to be governed.
FCC chair Ajit Pai should heed the call from millions of internet users, companies including Google, Twitter and Facebook and free speech advocates around the country. Keep the current net neutrality rules in place, at least until a better solution can be reached.
If Pai allows ISPs to make their own rules on how the public can access information, the gates will open for corporations to place profits ahead of the free flow of ideas, expression and knowledge. The internet is too important to allow this to happen.
This story was originally published in the Daily Wildcat on July 19. This story has been updated. Read the original here.
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