Why You Should Care About the FCC’s New “Net Neutrality” Rules

An Editorial

Could this be the future of Cat Flag?

Could this be the future of Cat Flag?

You may or may not have heard of the phrase “net neutrality”, but if you use the Internet, you should care about it. From the moment the Internet was created until just this year, net neutrality has been the thing that has made it the essential daily tool, open world of information, playground, and force for technological and business innovation we all know and love. But here in the United States, net neutrality may soon disappear.

Net neutrality essentially is a non-discrimination policy for the Internet. It says that what you want to use the World Wide Web for is completely up to you. Whether you want to read Cat Flag, upload your latest selfie to Instagram, watch movies on Netflix, spend your entire day playing World of Warcraft,  or just check your e-mail, the company that is connecting you to the Internet can only give you the wires or wi-fi to do what you do. Companies like Comcast or Verizon can’t treat the different websites you visit or services you use differently. They have to give you access and get out of the way.

In some countries, particularly in Europe, the principle of net neutrality is actually mandated by law. Here in the United States, however, there is no specific law requiring net neutrality. Instead, the U.S. government entrusts the FCC with the power to monitor and regulate the Internet. Since 2005, the FCC has told companies like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable to abide by the net neutrality principle.

Then in January of this year, a federal court ruled that these FCC net neutrality rules were invalid. Specifically, the court found that the FCC, who can only legally act where Congress gives them the authority to act, had overreached their authority in making their net neutrality rules. The court told the FCC to go back and rewrite the rules so that they were consistent with federal laws. The FCC could have appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, but chose not to.

Instead, the FCC decided to go back to the drawing board. As of right now, the draft they are considering is a secret, but some of the basic ideas they are discussing were leaked to the press. What these leaks show is not encouraging.

Under the proposal, your Internet connection could look more like your cable or satellite company. Internet service providers would be able to charge Web-based companies a premium fee for a faster connection to your computer or smartphone. Big businesses like Google, Facebook, Netflix, or Blizzard would essentially pay for better service.

This is very bad news for you. Yes, you, reading this editorial right now. The money these big companies would be paying has to come from somewhere. If you subscribe to Netflix or play online games, your subscription will probably go up. Facebook and Twitter might have to start charging their users, or at the very least, the number of ads you see when you log in will go up. What if Amazon decides it wants to pay for a faster connection, too? Will they have to raise their prices?

Even worse, the fact that these big, successful businesses could buy better connections would cause innovation online to stagnate. The next entrepreneur with the next big idea for a web-based business wouldn’t have the money to pay for this preferential treatment. If you tried to go visit his or her website, the connection could be so slow that you give up and just stick with the established big-business websites. The Internet would go from a place where anyone willing to put in the hard work can make it to a place where it isn’t even worth it to try.

Where does this leave Cat Flag? I use WordPress to make this blog, so my fortunes in this un-neutral Internet will be tied to WordPress’s fortunes. Sure, WordPress makes money and is far from poor, but it doesn’t earn the billions of dollars that Google or Netflix or Blizzard can draw from. Would WordPress be able to compete in a world where you have to pay for speed? Will you be able to keep enjoying my blog?

So far, the FCC insists that it is committed to a fair and open Internet. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler declared, “Let me be clear. If someone acts to divide the Internet between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ we will use every power at our disposal to stop it.” Previous FCC statements have also insisted that they will not allow Internet service providers to unfairly favor their own services; for example, Comcast, who owns NBC, would not be able to direct traffic to NBC’s websites by blocking or slowing down connections to competing websites. While these statements are reassuring, the fact is that for now we have to take the FCC’s word for it, since the proposed new rules won’t be made public until May 15.

The good news is that when the rules are made public, the FCC will give the public a chance to have its voice heard. When that happens, the FCC will be providing a link on this page to submit your comments to the agency electronically. You could also send them a letter, writing to them at this address:

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
Office of the Secretary
445 12th Street, SW
Room TW-B204
Washington, DC 20554

There are further instructions on this web page on how to submit comments to the FCC through either method.

I’m not telling you that you must send them a comment or letter, nor am I saying you necessarily have to agree with me here. I know someone who actually opposes net neutrality and thinks the proposed new rules are fair, on the logic that those who gobble up more bandwidth (such as the big businesses we’ve been talking about) should have to pay for better service, since it takes so much time and money to provide access to their web content. There are plenty of other anti-net neutrality arguments one can make, with just a few of them listed here.

What I am saying is that I will be sending the FCC my opinion on May 15, and if you feel the same way I do on this issue, or even if you strongly disagree, please consider making your voice heard.

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One Response to Why You Should Care About the FCC’s New “Net Neutrality” Rules

  1. Pingback: Once again, it’s time to fight to save net neutrality | Cat Flag

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