Net neutrality bill in the US: what this Washington legislature can mean for the Internet users in the US, but also around the world.
It is impossible to say for which purposes people use the internet, but whichever those purposes are we can all agree that the internet is the best thing to happen to humanity since electricity. For more than two decades now, the internet was providing a platform for everyone from people who share silly memes of frogs to people who actually make their livelihood from working on the internet.
For users in the United States, the Federal Communication Commission has seen that the internet is providing a good and equal service to everyone… and then agreed that that should be changed.
Net Neutrality, as coined by professor Tim Wu from the Columbia University in 2003, is a principle where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all data going through their service as equal and play no favorites for whom they can charge extra as to speed up their service.
Even though there are numerous examples of ISPs doing exactly this and throttling any service that they find is in any way competing with their product, the cable and internet providers are strong in their belief that such a thing as a shakedown of competitor product will not happen and that the end users of internet content in the United States will have an overall benefit of the service.
Due to the fall of net neutrality, more and more people nationwide are connecting to various VPN services as to both secure their browser history and to provide a more stable connection in cases where their ISP is throttling the download speed of their preferred content.
Currently, there is a new net neutrality bill being deliberated upon by the US Senate Subcommittee on Communications and Technology from both the Democratic and the Republican Party as Washington legislature trying to answer to the demands of their constituencies.
History of Net Neutrality Law in the US
The concept behind net neutrality is closely related to the American tradition of free press and free enterprise, where the media is there just to tell us what happened and not to tell us what to think about it. This is important for net neutrality as, before 2010, rules concerning internet service providers have fallen under Title I of the Communications Act of 1934, which wasn’t obviously made as a net neutrality bill, as it was created well before the invention of the internet. After Verizon successfully sued the United States in 2010, the court ordered for ISP to be placed to Title II, meaning that they would be subject to common carrier rules and sequentially to net neutrality.
Even when the internet was in its infancy the idea arose that the government and internet providers shouldn’t decide how the users will deal with the data going through the network but should leave that to the end users. This concept, primarily known as ‘’dumb pipe” and now changed to ‘’dumb wave” due to wireless internet, was widely accepted as something that should be internet standard, forcing internet service providers at the end of the 20th century to accept the equal status of data on their networks, unless they wanted to lose customers.
By the end of the last century, there were more than 40 companies all over the continental United States that offered internet access, and in such a competitive market it was prudent to meet the expectations of the market and to provide your users what they demand, what included the net neutrality principle.
Using this principle, the only arbiter of what goes to the internet is the demand, made by the end user. While it is possible for the individual end users to be breaking the law of the land by utilizing the internet for malicious reasons, by the principles of net neutrality that were official up until 2017, that user will not be infringed upon in their internet access to any material.
On December 7th 2017, the latest net neutrality bill was proposed under the number H.R.4585, by House Representative Sean Patrick Maloney from New York. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on the next day and has stayed under deliberation from the subcommittee since then.
Effect of Net Neutrality Bill on Internet Service Providers
It is already becoming obvious that the only beneficiaries of the revocation of net neutrality rules are the networking companies that provide internet, cable, and wireless to the general public. Even though some ISPs, such as Google Fiber, were supporting net neutrality, most other large corporation were explicitly against, citing various reasons why the liberalization of internet policy would be overall beneficial, not only to them but also to the public.
Without net neutrality, ISPs are open to creating a Two Tier system where some companies would get priority in bandwidth against others, creating an unequal playing field for different companies. This is especially important when we know that ISPs are often incorporated with content creation companies and other industries which are heavily reliant on their internet connection, meaning that they would be able to provide a much better service for those companies and even extort their competitors for access to market where users don’t have other options for internet providers.
Finally, ISPs would be able to differentiate the final users of that content, giving preferential treatment for using certain products and penalties for using competitor products. As an example, Spectrum Cable would be able to limit the amount of data transfer users are having for Netflix, or reduce the speed of that download while providing an HBO service free of charge. This sort of corporate nepotism between two sister companies would have major consequences on the way we use the internet.
Constitution of a De Facto Cartel
A free market is generally a good thing, but it is the job of the government to keep that market free for all of its citizens, and in the ISP industry it is debatable if there even is a free choice of which ISP a local person could use. With about a third of all Americans having reasonable access to only one carrier or ISP and more than half having only two options, the ISP market is creating a de-facto cartel on providing internet access to the public.
With the three biggest Internet Service Providers making more than 65% of the total market and the first five making more than 85% of the market, the biggest providers are starting to ‘’get out of each other’s way’’, which enable for the prices to be pushed up and the service quality to dwindle, rising profits for the ISP shareholders.
The first place on the list of ISP is more or less shared between Comcast and Charter, with AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink, the next three providers having only slightly more subscribers than Comcast. Now, this information by itself wouldn’t be alarming, if all of those companies were not incorporated with other that create internet or other content, where it would be beneficial for them to play favorites.
The second biggest company, Charter Communications Inc. is much better known as Spectrum, which is in turn much better known as the Time Warner Cable. All other also have massive connections either by direct ownership or ownership structure with media companies, with each other, and with many facets of the government.
Arguments in Favor of Net Neutrality Bill
In the net neutrality debate the main argument in favor of net neutrality is the leveled playing field and the opportunity it creates for new businesses and new ideas. For many, this is the main advantage of the internet where anyone can reach a large audience, cheaply, where they only need a good product. As the social term most connected to the internet is freedom, users have a negative opinion about the possibility that anyone, including their ISPs, would be able to figuratively ‘’hold their desired content hostage”.
With a net neutrality bill incorporated into law, it would be insignificant which ISP you are using, as you would be able to access all legal data with any provider, but without it, the user wouldn’t be able to have a good internet speed or even access, to some data which the ISPs parent company might see as competition.
In the cases if and when data is restricted, it is sometimes better to use a VPN provider than your original ISP, not including the fact that a VPN will not sell your browsing data to someone else, or even just give it to one of their incorporated companies. We have tested different ISPs in the US and Canada using a VPN provider called Le VPN, which seems very reliable, and we have seen significant differences on how different ISPs treat different content like YouTube and Netflix, and with Canadian ISPs having a constantly better performance than US ones.
Those arguing for the mater have joined in a massive online protest on 12th of July 2017 dubbed the net neutrality day of action, as multiple companies, countless institutions and people around the globe have joined in the protection of a principle that they deem to be crucial to the survival of the internet as we know it.
Arguments Against Net Neutrality Bill
While arguments against the principles of net neutrality are usually coming from those who have benefited the most with its revocation (read more on which companies are against net neutrality), there are others who argue that deregulation in this field will lead to better and cheaper service overall.
This argument is using the analogy of other industries where government intervention is both unwanted and unneeded and where the market prospers and the service improves when there is no cronyism from the federal or state level with assists specific companies.
This argument is forsaking the implication that the internet is not so much a product as it is an infrastructure, it is basically a road where your data travels, and while yes, corporations might sometimes have the interest to build infrastructure, it is disputable if a road building company can charge differently for different trucking companies, favoring those they are incorporated with. If end users are unable to easily change their ISP, there is an incentive for that ISP to affiliate itself with different content creating companies which it could play favors with, barring competitors from the infrastructure.
Examples of the Lack of Net Neutrality
While the Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, waves the argument about ISPs preventing service to competitor products as fear mongering, examples of that happening already exist. Namely, in 2011, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile US have all denied access to Google Wallet as it was seen as a competitor to their own service, unfortunately, called the same as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS. As a ploy to support ISIS (ISPs payment service, not the Islamic faction), ISPs have denied service to anyone using their service to connect to the internet, while those connecting over Comcast didn’t have any troubles with the service.
While not involved in the previous situation, Comcast is far from being without sin, as this ISP was found to have reduced the speed of Netflix during their negotiations, dropping it down more than 20% for users accessing the movie streaming service over their network.
Effects the Lack of Net Neutrality Will Have on Users
Wonder why net neutrality matters? Users in the United States are already experiencing slower speeds and less reliable internet connections than many places in the world, while at the same time usually paying a premium for that service.
To use a good comparison, the eastern European country of Romania, with its 20 or so million people and a mountainous terrain, has a better and faster average internet connection than the United States, while paying only 20% of the average price. It is problematic when a country that ended communism barely 30 years ago has a more developed internet infrastructure than the most developed nation in the world.
This is a result of the aforementioned de facto cartel, as there is no reason why ISP would strive to provide a better service when it is all but impossible for them to gain competition from the market.
Donald Trump Net Neutrality Policies
While it would be very difficult for any government to be able to create a good net neutrality bill, the Donald Trump administration has shown an utter disregard to both the policy of people who came before them and their reasoning and the outcry or the market.
Trump’s relationship to the internet is a peculiar one, as the President has often argued, baselessly, that net neutrality is affecting conservative viewpoints from being distributed, whilst he himself has won the presidency mostly because of the free access of individuals and the lack of preferential treatment from corporations with internet distribution.
If net neutrality was disabled before the elections, ISPs would be able to pressure social media and users not to share content with his political message, which was the backbone of his candidacy, and it is questionable if the fall of net neutrality trump Trump’s chances for reelection.
Senator Edward John Markey and Net Neutrality
This Senator from Massachusetts, serving in front of the Democratic Party, is one of the key proponents of net neutrality and internet equality. While Senator Markey’s relationship with the internet is not perfect, as possibly no person’s over the age of 35 is, but he is a strong proponent of ISPs not being able to pick and choose which content will go in which lane over the internet.
In 2009, the Senator, then a Representative of the House, has proposed the Internet Freedom Preservation Act as a new net neutrality bill, which would incorporate the ideas of net neutrality into law, for which he had the support of several other House Representatives which was fairly bipartisan. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t pass into law with interest for it dwindling.
Ajit Pai and Net Neutrality
Mr. Pai is the Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission, responsible for the revocation of net neutrality principles, and a strong advocate against this practice for many years. He is a former corporate lawyer for Verizon and has significant experience working both with the Senate and the FCC, prior to becoming chairman.
In 2017, he was confirmed to be in office for another five years.
Ajit Pai is probably the most disliked non-celebrity person on the internet today, as he is seen as someone actively participating in the United States government affiliations with big business and crony capitalism.
In the end, the nature of the free market is to adapt to adversity, and if the predictions of the failing service and rising prices comes true, the users all around the United States will find better alternatives, or will just circumvent the rules using a VPN, with which you view any content reliably, by just switching to a Canadian server.
The battle for net neutrality wages on and the best course of action is to be vigilant and to search for alternatives and solutions, while not letting large corporations and ISPs from infringing on your right to surf the internet as you see fit.
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