Net neutrality: a human right

December 7, 2017 Opinion

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, along with Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, wish to strip Americans of the ability to freely share information and entertainment.

They wish to do this by declassifying the internet as a Title II Common carrier. Title II, to quote savetheinternet.com, “gives the FCC the authority it needs to ensure that companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon can’t block, throttle or otherwise interfere with web traffic.”

The level playing field these regulations protect is colloquially referred to as “net neutrality.”

The reversal of the 2015 decision to regulate internet service providers (ISPs) will turn the internet into a large-scale digital protection racket. The gravest and most immediate danger will affect the competition in the relatively young but massively popular streaming industry.

Comcast, whose Xfinity streaming service is in direct competition with the likes of Netflix, will be able to throttle (which in this context means to slow down) Netflix’s streaming, driving consumers to use Xfinity. This state of affairs is absolutely indefensible.

Though ISPs claim that they will not do this, despite the fact that they have paid millions to members of Congress in hopes of being allowed to do so, I doubt their honesty.

My doubts stem from the fact that throttling competitors for ransom, or in other words, extortion, is exactly what they did before they were told not to do so.

From October 2014 to January 2015, less than one year before ISPs were regulated under Title II, Netflix download speeds over Comcast and lines dropped nearly 25%. This adversely affected the experience of paying customers of both Netflix and Comcast. Speeds stayed low until the two companies came to a private, “mutually beneficial” agreement, afterwhich download speeds climbed to 24% above where they were in Oct 2014.

I agree that, from a certain perspective, most hostage negotiations are mutually beneficial. However, I still would not want to be caught in one, and I certainly do not want my ability to seamlessly watch The Office  in 1080p to depend on such a negotiation when I have already paid $7.99 that month in order to do so.

ISPs do not even have to be vertically integrated to extort businesses and stifle competition in the ‘free’ market. If Ajit Pai and lobbyists get their way, they could do so on behalf of any large pre-existing company willing to pay them enough.

Today, any startup or small business needs a web presence in order to succeed. Imagine if I started a water bottle company which sold water so cheap and advanced that it significantly threatened Nalgene market share.

Nalgene, quaking in their boots about my hydration innovations, could pay ISPs to outright destroy my company's web presence. With my web presence compromised, no one would know about how awesome my water bottles were, and my company would go under due to a lack of consumers.

In addition to my company going under, the American consumer would lose, too. They  can no longer be fully informed about their water bottle purchases, because the information they receive can be dictated by players already in the game.

While my water bottle example may be a little silly for the sake of simplicity, when the same concept is applied to Silicon Valley, it will have grave consequences for innovation and the future of computer technology. 

An open internet gives a voice to the voiceless. In recent decades, thousands of videos exposing animal cruelty have been uploaded to the internet. The public's reaction to these atrocities has lead to minute yet definite market losses for the worst offenders.

However, if Net Neutrality is lost, companies that feel financially threatened by videos of male chick grinders or severely dehydrated pigs will be able to make those videos go away, or at least significantly harder to watch logisitically.

As far as  I am aware, making it harder to expose torture and oppression has never in history led to less torture and oppression, only more.

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