The internet is an ubiquitous part of life—to the extent that the UN has declared access to it a basic human right. Connectivity is indeed often a necessity, as many modern jobs rely on use of the Internet to communicate, work, and improve productivity. This reliance on the internet gives a large amount of leverage to its providers—such as AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast. These companies are already somewhat controversial for monopolizing internet service in certain regions, providing service often inferior to that of other countries at much higher prices.
With concerns such as these already in place, the consequences of dissolving net neutrality become increasingly clear. If you’re not familiar with the subject, net neutrality is the practice of preventing internet service providers from favoring certain websites, often those that have paid or otherwise compensated these companies. The subject has become a hot button issue in recent months, with pushes to dismantle limits in place on ISPs.
The FCC, under chairman Ajit Pai, has submitted a proposal to undo 2015 net neutrality rules. The proposal, now under comment until July 17, asks whether net neutrality rules are needed at all. Since the commenting period opened in April, the FCC has received well over 6 million comments from constituents concerned about internet traffic not being treated equally.
As 51% of Americans only have one choice of Internet provider, undoing net neutrality rules could be catastrophic when it comes to enabling ISPs to charge more for their services something that, even with the rules in place, is already a problem. And though you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone of any political party that supports slower internet and limited website access, the problem lies with the amount of lobbying done by ISPs. Pai argues that undoing net neutrality rules would allow these companies to invest more in their infrastructure and provide better services, but in the absence of competition, it is unlikely that there would be any priority other than increasing profits.
Now, as the time for commenting draws to a close, tech companies, particularly those with a strong web presence, are protesting the proposal. Google, Facebook, Reddit, and Amazon are among those joining the protest, adding messages and deliberately slowing down their websites to make visitors aware of the possible consequences of a nation without net neutrality. There is a precedent for this type of action; many websites went dark in 2012 to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, believing it to be a violation of free speech. The bill was subsequently withdrawn.
Indeed, many of these companies are starting to worry experts in their own right, with some saying that they are becoming too large to challenge. Without net neutrality, their influence would not be as prevalent as it is. Their concerns are not the same as the average citizens, but giving ISPs the power to hold influence over them is something that will not only hurt the average citizen, but hurt any small company trying to gain traction in a space that would essentially be pay-to-win.
It is likely that Pai has already made his decision. A former Verizon lawyer, he has objected to net neutrality for years, while dismissing the millions of comments posted online, stating that quality would move him more than quantity.
Will these companies raising awareness make a difference? It’s hard to say. However, what’s clear is that net neutrality needs to be preserved to maintain competition in the online marketplace and prevent ISPs from stifling sites on a whim—or on the whims of a company paying them.
If you’d like to learn more about how to preserve net neutrality, visit this site.