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The Net Neutrality Battle

Is Not Over

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Now That The FCC Has Ruled — And Telecom Companies Have Eyed Legal Action To Stop It — Is A Free And Open Internet Now A Sure-Thing For End-Users?

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

March 7, 2015 — After a lengthy battle, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a new set of net neutrality rules a week or so ago which will help to keep the internet open and not allow telecom companies to prioritize content delivery.

For those that don’t know, the concept of net neutrality boils down to the idea that all traffic on the web has to be treated equally. Essentially, any Internet service provider (ISP) can’t slow down or restrict access to content and on the flip side of the coin, can’t create “fast lanes” and charge content providers like Netflix a premium to use those fast lanes.

Net neutrality attempts to keep the Internet a level playing field.

“Look at Facebook for example. It was a tiny little website about a college campus, and because you could use that website at the same speed as any other website on the internet, it was able to become what it is today. Without net neutrality, we will lose the ability to have start-ups become huge,” said Jared Adam, an Arizona-based tech enthusiast.

ISP’s such as Cox Communications and Verizon were pushing for the ability to be able to have more control over the content that their users were able to obtain and see, based on controlling service speeds for certain websites and companies that were willing to pay for premium service. However, the new set of rules that the FCC has approved will prevent that, at least for now.

As it stands, the major telecom companies will likely be challenging the FCC in court in order to try and overturn the regulations.

President Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic party were largely in favor of the new regulations, which will essentially be treating the Internet as if it were a public commodity, much like water and electricity. President Obama thanked the American people in a letter from the White House after the ruling.

“I ran for office because I believed that nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change. That’s the backbone of our democracy - and you’ve proven that this timeless principle is alive and well in our digital age,” ‘Obama said.

The millions of voices that Obama is referring to are the more than four million people who wrote to the FCC to voice their support to keep the Internet free and open. In addition to the FCC comments, there was strong support from social media as well as various online petitions.

Not everyone outside of telecom companies feels that the new regulations are a victory. Geoffrey A. Manne, executive director of the International Center for Law and Economics has strongly voiced his opinion that the new regulations won’t do anything to properly solve the problems and feels that the people that voiced their support for net neutrality didn’t truly understand the problem.

Another potential concern is that, since telecom companies like Cox Communications won’t be able to charge content providers for “fast lanes,” they may look to target their customers for additional money and raise their prices.

Currently, Cox Communications lists their prices for Internet anywhere from $34.99 per month to $79.99 a month.

But beyond higher rates, new businesses and non-profits that don’t have the deep pockets of global conglomerates and activist billionaires will get squeezed out of the market or discussion. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the pre-eminent nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world, has been made its case for net neutrality for years partly on the argument that non-profits who promote alternative viewpoints would be particularly vulnerable.

The non-profit American Hydrogen Association, whose group advocates for energy solutions that, if adopted, would revolutionize several industries — perhaps greatest among them, the oil and gas conglomerates — is exactly the type of group that the EFF said would be most vulnerable.

Ben Ferguson, vice president of Mesa-based AHA, agrees with that notion wholeheartedly.

“The internet is something that we all depend on, and it is important that we be informed about conditions, situations, and legislation that affect both our access and our experience,” said Ferguson. “The internet is for everyone, and should not be held in exclusivity by corporate shareholder interests.”

But now that the FCC has decided to step into the foray the EFF and others are also worried how far the governmental agency will go while acting as the “referee” between the ISPs and its order to protect consumers, competition, and innovation.

“The problem with a rule this vague is that neither ISPs nor Internet users can know in advance what kinds of practices will run afoul of the rule. Only companies with significant legal staff and expertise may be able to use the rule effectively. And a vague rule gives the FCC an awful lot of discretion, potentially giving an unfair advantage to parties with insider influence. That means our work is not yet done.  We must stay vigilant, and call out FCC overreach,” wrote Jeremy Gillula and Mitch Stoltz of the EFF.

No matter where people stand on net neutrality and a free and open internet, there does seem to be a general consensus that this is an important issue and needs to be treated with care.

Ryan Scott is a contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He lives in Mesa.
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