Debate on net neutrality continues

By Shannon Rapose
Kern Valley Sun

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed the government regulation on net neutrality, which prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing user access to any (legal) online content. Last week, the FCC publicized their intentions to repeal that regulation, thereby reshaping the internet ecosystem as we know it.

Under the new proposal, ISPs would be allowed to control what web content and online services their customers could see or use and, also, charge Web companies for faster delivery of their content. Under the current regulations, all ISPs must treat all web content and online services equally. Verizon, for example, is not permitted to deliver content from Yahoo, a search engine they own, to users any faster than it delivers content from Google. They are also not allowed to actively throttle or block other Google services.

According to the Washington Post, the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stated that he proposed the repeal of net neutrality because he felt the regulations stunted innovation and was an example of government overreach, while net neutrality supporters argue that the regulations are necessary for the protection of the consumer from media and information monopolies.

Ironically, on Nov. 16, the FCC also voted to eliminate the decades-old media cross-ownership ban, which prohibited a single company or entity from owning multiple information sources, such as newspapers, television and radio stations, in the same town or local market. According to the New York Times, Pai argued that the media ownership restrictions, including the cross-ownership ban, was outdated, declaring that most Americans get their news from a variety of sources and online platforms, such as Google or Facebook.

Upon hearing of the FCC’s proposal, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who drafted the net neutrality regulations in 2015, stated that, “the job of the FCC is to represent the consumer. Tragically, this decision is only for the benefit of the largely monopoly services that deliver the Internet to the consumer.”

On Cyber Monday, Nov. 27, more than 200 online firms, such as Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Airbnb, signed a letter to the FCC highlighting the record Black Friday sales, stating that they “are a testament to the power of the free and open internet to encourage entrepreneurship, drive innovation, make our lives easier, and to support a healthy economy.” The letter also stated that “without these rules, internet service providers will be able to favor certain websites and e-businesses. Businesses may have to pay a toll just to reach customers. This would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent new in from even getting off the ground.”

Under the new proposal, as long as an ISP is transparent and discloses that they reserve the right to throttle or block access to certain web content to its users, they are permitted do as they wish as far as connection speeds. The concern is that when a website loads slowly, users tend to navigate away; therefore, throttling speeds can be an effective form of censorship.

If Congress votes in favor of the FCC’s proposal to repeal net neutrality on Dec. 14, it could take as little as six weeks to go into effect.

Since the process is already in motion, there are only a couple of ways to stop the regulation repeal, but all require public outcry. Congress has the power to undo the FCC’s decision, but only if their constituents voice their concerns.

For more information or to send a public comment to the FCC, visit www.fcc.gov. You may also contact your local representative to make public comment before Congress’s final vote on Dec. 14.