Forgive me for sharing my opinion about Net Neutrality, but I feel it is an important issue that can deeply affect the future of the open internet. I signed the petition asking the White House to take the necessary steps to reinstate the Net Neutrality rules that protected the open internet, but the response I just received was not the response I was hoping for.
For those that are unfamiliar with Net Neutrality and the recent events associated with it, let me explain. In 2010, the Net Neutrality rules were put into place by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to regulate internet traffic. These rules told internet service providers (ISPs) that they couldn’t discriminate varying types of internet traffic, that all traffic should be treated equally. This meant that one service couldn’t be transmitted at reduced speeds in favor of another. It guaranteed that what happens on the internet doesn’t fall victim to abusive tactics from corporations looking for new ways to squeeze money out of their customers.
Just a month ago, after a long fight in court between Verizon and the FCC, the Net Neutrality rules have been removed. It was determined that the FCC never classified ISPs as common carriers, which it can regulate. Instead, they were classified as information services, which the FCC can’t regulate. This means that the FCC is unable to establish any form of regulations on internet providers unless they’re reclassified — there may be other methods that can be done to re-establish some regulations but I am unaware of them.
Without Net Neutrality, there are fears that the internet as we know it will be transformed into a crippled entertainment service in which every customer is nickled and dimed. These fears aren’t fabricated from thin air as prior to the Net Neutrality rules, slides from a marketing firm leaked on the web illustrating new business models that treated internet packages similarly to television packages (I’ll describe this in a second). Currently, there are two major directions people fear the internet may turn without Net Neutrality in place. The more likely one is that various internet services and/or websites might be throttled to slow speeds by ISPs unless those services or websites pay the ISP throttling them a fee. This doesn’t cost the average person initially, but it does cost other businesses. This could introduce new fees or higher prices of those services to their customers to help with these extra costs. It could also hinder new startups from establishing a business online if they can’t afford the “fast lane” on the internet. The second option, which stemmed from those leaked slides, is an internet in which customers pay for access to a select group of websites and are blocked from the others, much like the way TV packages are sold. I don’t believe this is a likely outcome, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Already with the Net Neutrality rules missing, customers have already reported Netflix and YouTube being slowed down from certain internet providers. AT&T also introduced “sponsored data” on their cellphone business in which business can pay for the data their viewers use, which could introduce an unfair advantage to new businesses in the future. I have also experienced network throttling at my own home that hadn’t happened prior to this court decision.
Where does the White House come in on this? Shortly after the court denounced Net Neutrality, a petition was started to ask the White House to re-establish these rules. The petition reached over its 100,000 signatures required for the White House to address it and I was one of those signing it. The White House sent those that signed the petition a lengthy letter stating their position on Net Neutrality. It read:
Reaffirming the White House’s Commitment to Net Neutrality
By Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and Todd Park, the United States Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President.
Thank you to everyone who has signed on to this petition in support of a free and open Internet. Since his days as a United States Senator, President Obama has embraced the principle of net neutrality. As the President recently noted, his campaign for the White House was empowered by an open Internet; it allowed millions of supporters to interact with the President and each other in unprecedented fashion. That experience helped give rise to the creation of this very platform — the We The People website — where Americans can express their opinions on any topic and receive a response from the White House. Rights of free speech, and the free flow of information, are central to our society and economy — and the principle of net neutrality gives every American an equal and meaningful opportunity to participate in both. Indeed, an open Internet is an engine for freedom around the world.
Preserving an open Internet is vital not to just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity. Because of its openness, the Internet has allowed entrepreneurs — with just a small amount of seed money or a modest grant — to take their innovative ideas from the garage or the dorm room to every corner of the Earth, building companies, creating jobs, improving vital services, and fostering even more innovation along the way.
Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries. The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure. An open Internet removes barriers to investment worldwide.
A wide spectrum of stakeholders and policymakers recognize the importance of these principles. In the wake of last month’s court decision, it was encouraging to hear major broadband providers assert their commitment to an open Internet.
It was also encouraging to see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, whom the President appointed to that post last year, reaffirm his commitment to a free and open Internet and pledge to use the authority granted by Congress to maintain a free and open Internet. The White House strongly supports the FCC and Chairman Wheeler in this effort.
The petition asked that the President direct the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers as “common carriers” which, if upheld, would give the FCC a distinct set of regulatory tools to promote net neutrality. The FCC is an independent agency. Chairman Wheeler has publicly pledged to use the full authority granted by Congress to maintain a robust, free and open Internet — a principle that this White House vigorously supports.
Todd Park is the United States Chief Technology Officer. Gene Sperling is Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy.
The letter mostly says that the White House agrees that these rules should exist to protect the open and free internet, however it is staying out of it. It states that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to address this issue and they plan to stay out of his way. Rather than addressing this issue, the White House instead has announced they would do nothing and wait and see. I am currently skeptical of Tom Wheeler as he is a former lobbyist for the telecommunication industry and ISPs. I hope he makes the right moves and wish that the White House had more assurance that something was going to happen than what they had shared in this letter.