Once again, it’s time to fight to save net neutrality

An Editorial

Two years ago, I wrote a blog about the importance of net neutrality as a whole, and Cat Flag in particular. The context was that a federal court had ruled against the net neutrality rules that had been set up by the Federal Communications Commission, and as a result the FCC was trying to decide how to proceed. After a huge public pressure campaign convinced the FCC that the American public still wanted to keep net neutrality, the FCC classified internet service providers as “common carriers”, the same classification long used for phone companies. As a result, the FCC was able to implement new net neutrality rules that were upheld in court.

So, story’s over right? The Internet is safe now? Of course not.

In 2017, the FCC got a new chairman, former Verizon lawyer Ajit V. Pai, a man who had voted against the FCC’s new net neutrality rules and has gone on the record saying net neutrality’s “days are numbered”. Earlier this year, he began FCC proceedings to repeal the FCC’s earlier decision. Never mind that polls have shown that there is overwhelming support for net neutrality by the vast majority of Americans regardless of their political positions; to Pai, net neutrality is a form of government overreach and an undue regulatory burden on ISPs.

Fortunately, the FCC is required to solicit public comments before making a rule change like that. Unfortunately, some spambot from an unknown source has been busted submitting hundreds of comments under fake names in support of Pai’s proposal. When contacted by Forbes magazine about removing these fake comments, Pai said he would not do so. An activist group decided to set up a website for people to check if the spambot has submitted comments under their own names, comcastroturf.com, only to be handed a cease and desist letter from Comcast threatening to sue them. (Comcast later backed down.) I used the site and found no less than two fake spambot comments under the name “Robert Griffith”. So, I submitted a real comment of my own, explaining my own position on net neutrality and alerting the FCC to the spambot comments.

Fake comment farce aside, I can understand where ISPs and Pai are coming from in opposing net neutrality. From an ISP’s point of view, net neutrality means internet users who just check their e-mails and visit a few blogs have the same internet access, at the same price, as internet users who use high-bandwidth services like Netflix, YouTube, and Steam. It means that the ISPs can’t charge companies like Google and Blizzard to give their customers faster speeds. As an MBA student, I learned about differential pricing – the idea that you want to charge customers exactly what they are willing to pay for a good, but that dollar value will be different for different customers. This is why grocery stores offer coupons and deals that reduce the price for larger purchases; some customers are willing to jump through the hoops to pay less, others aren’t. Each is getting their groceries at a price closer to what they are actually willing to pay for their groceries. Likewise, if internet customers are willing to pay more for higher-bandwidth, faster-speed service, shouldn’t ISPs be able to charge them more?

Except the internet is not a grocery store. As the court that upheld the FCC’s new net neutrality rules pointed out, internet access in the 21st century is a public utility. Since most ISPs are also phone or cable companies, one would think they would be used to being regulated like a public utility.

Most of the big internet companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, and so on – started out life as small start-ups run by a handful of people. They got to the top through a free market that is free precisely because of the principle of net neutrality. Could you imagine if we lived in a world where Facebook wasn’t able to grow and ended up shutting down because Myspace could pay ISPs extra to load faster on users’ computers? Heck, we’ve seen cable companies drop channels over contract disputes; without net neutrality, what’s to stop Verizon from blocking Hulu for similar reasons? No wonder Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, Vimeo, Etsy, and other big websites are opposed to Pai’s proposals.

This is an issue I feel passionately about because it directly affects me. Cat Flag runs on WordPress, so if something were to suddenly happen to WordPress, I would be in big trouble. So all I’m asking, if you agree with me (or even if you disagree), is that you let the FCC know what you think about this issue.

  • Please visit this web page on the FCC’s website
  • Where it says “Proceedings”, please list “14-28” and “17-108”; those are the actual FCC cases having to do with the net neutrality proposals.
  • Remember, anything you enter is a matter of public record, so please keep it civil. And don’t set up a spambot.

Thank you.