The FCC plans to repeal net neutrality (and why that’s a bad thing)

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Comcast/Xfinity van
Photo by Mike Mozart (Flickr / CC BY)

The Federal Communications Commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, plans to vote on December 14 to repeal Obama-era rules about net neutrality. Net neutrality, of course, is the principle that internet service providers treat all data flowing through their services equally, without throttling or favoring one site over another. In other words, Diverse Tech Geek gets treated the same by ISPs as CNN or Facebook.

The FCC’s plan is to repeal the internet’s current Title II classification (which allows the FCC to regulate things like net neutrality); they’d restore its old “information services” status, which’d give the FCC fewer regulatory abilities. They also plan to have the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) handle any anti-competitive concerns about or violations of the ISPs’ own policies. The new rules also override any state- or local-level rule-making.

Given net neutrality A) is consumer-friendly and B) is something passed during Obama’s presidency, it’s not surprising that the Trump administration wants to repeal these rules, however disastrous or short-sighted. The net neutrality repeal’s expected to pass along a 3-2 party-line vote. Of course, significant online and offline backlash has emerged, from politicians, the tech industry, the ACLU, the EFF, etc. There’ll also likely be lawsuits about all of this.

Based on recent complaints (and fairly indifferent response) about the FCC’s commenting system, it’s clear Pai’s mind is long made up. Any rhetoric about taking public opinion into account’s just that. Unsurprising, as Pai used to work for Verizon, a company that’d stand to benefit from a repeal of net neutrality rules.

Reasons why repealing net neutrality’s a bad idea

Ultimately, repealing net neutrality only benefits ISPs and telcos, and means disaster for everyone else. Those that strongly insist otherwise either have a fiscal conflict of interest (see: Pai/those in Congress telcos have successfully lobbied), have a poor grasp of how technology works, are blindly libertarian/pro-deregulation (despite that this will negatively affect everyone regardless of political views), or are lying.

But still, here’s some reasons why repealing net neutrality’s a bad idea.

Broadband and mobile service resembling cable TV packages

Imagine paying a fee for accessing YouTube, or popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Or your ISP requiring you to pay for a more expensive “Netflix-tier” broadband package. It’d all be legal as far as the Trump administration’s FCC is concerned. And I’m sure everyone loves paying for ever-spiraling cable TV packages with channels they don’t want, right?

ISPs favoring their own services

Internet service providers could favor their own company’s services. They could throttle rival services, or charge a fee for such.

Comcast is not only a large ISP, but they’re also a large movie studio (Universal), cable TV company, and broadcast TV network (NBC). It’d be perfectly legal for Comcast to offer, say, a “Universal Kids” streaming service while also throttling (or charging extra for accessing) Disney’s upcoming streaming service.

Stifling new companies and ideas

Women of color with laptops
Photo by WOCinTech Chat (Flickr / CC BY)

A lack of net neutrality might prevent the next Netflix or YouTube from emerging.

Consumers might be forced to buy a poorer broadband/mobile package to avoid new fees/rates. They also might worry about throttling, hitting data limits for non-ISP-owned services, etc.

All of this might make consumers less inclined to try some newer service or idea.

What competition?

This is also the point many libertarian types will trot out the old “let consumers, not regulators decide!” argument. Except they ignore or forget that most consumers don’t have a choice in ISPs. The choice in most areas are either a cable company broadband provider, or a telephone company’s DSL service.

Here in Seattle, the choices are Comcast (who I go with), CenturyLink (formerly Qwest; the dominant phone company for most of the western US outside California), and… that’s about it. (There’s some smaller ones that only serve specific condos, serve specific purposes, etc.; however, they aren’t an option or are irrelevant for the average person’s purposes.) For most people, there’s no choice besides “local cable company” and “local phone company.”

Municipally-run broadband would do a lot to provide actual competition; it’d also go a long ways toward resolving a lot of the current problems plaguing Internet access in the United States. However, the aforementioned telcos/cable companies also put in a lot of effort lobbying many state governments to ban or throw roadblocks at such efforts. And, of course, laissez-faire capitalism believers will throw a fit over the idea; they’ll insist it’s “government intrusion on the free market” of, um, two unpopular, expensive, and poorly-runs choices forming a duopoly.

Overall, the idea that “competition will save the day” is unlikely, the way things now stand.

CGPGrey on net neutrality

Finally, here’s a video by CGPGrey explaining why net neutrality’s important.

Conclusion

I expect the net neutrality repeal to go through. It’s an administration where dollars are the main thing that matter, versus non-wealthy citizens, facts, or logic. There’s also Trump’s grudge against the African-American president that preceded him; this has led to efforts at “disappearing” as many traces of Obama’s presence/policies as possible.

My long-term hope is for either a lawsuit (or multiple lawsuits) blocking this repeal or a new (Democrat-controlled) Congress/president passing new net neutrality laws. And, of course, that the general public becomes better educated about technology and the consequences of deregulatory actions such as the net neutrality repeal. (That, and the public remembering to vote even in local elections.)

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