Today Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, went ahead with the vote to get rid of net neutrality. Much ink has been spilled about net neutrality, but the basic premise is that the internet was regulated as a public utility, meaning certain consumer protections were built into its regulation. Today’s vote was to end that regulation of the internet, which opens up many profit-seeking behaviors from corporations – most infamously, “blocking” and “throttling” the internet in order to charge more for certain content.
We all know why net neutrality should have stayed. Currently the internet, being regulated as it is, protects consumers by providing uniform access to the same internet, treating each packet that travels through the internet equally. Everyone who has access to the internet in the United States has access to the same internet, and within their network each website or web service is accessed at the same speed. This is the “neutrality” part of net neutrality. Compare this to internet in countries like China, where websites the Chinese government doesn’t want their citizens to access load at incredibly slow rates, which funnels Chinese citizens into websites that can be monitored and censored by their government.
But why did net neutrality have to go? Does anybody even know? The obvious answer is to provide more profit opportunities for large media corporations on the backs of average citizens, but is there a consumer-centric argument for getting rid of net neutrality? I’ve been following the net neutrality debate for more than ten years now, and I’ve yet to see one. Usually the argument on the other side follows Ajit Pai’s defense – that it will open up investment opportunities that will “set the internet free.” What kind of investments though? Was there some problem with investments in the internet today that getting rid of these regulations would solve? I mean look around you – it seems to me that large and small companies alike are investing in the internet and web services just fine.
The real “problem” here is that giant conglomerate media companies have built an infrastructure around traditional media for generations, and now they are seeing that infrastructure threatened with open access to the internet. We all remember when Napster caused all of the giant music companies to lose their minds, but now it’s not just about pirating. Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and other companies from silicon valley are jumping over the whole “build the infrastructure” business model and using existing cable lines to provide the same (often better) content to users for far less money than what other media companies charge – and this has media companies like Comcast in a panic. Comcast, who has been running fraudulent ad campaigns pretending they are in favor of protecting net neutrality, alone has spent millions of dollars lobbying to get rid of net neutrality.
The truly disgusting part of all of this was that net neutrality has had huge public outcry for its defense every time this subject gets brought up, so you would think they would just stop bringing it up. But no. After threatening to get rid of net neutrality over and over again the last few years – with billions of lobbying dollars putting wind into their sails, this time the FCC just went ahead and voted it out anyways while ignoring the millions of public comments on their website. They ask for public comments on their decisions and then do whatever they were going to do anyways.
The plan has always been to get rid of net neutrality. Each round of “public comments” has been a fraud. We’ll see if there was any consumer benefit to this in the coming years, but since I don’t feel your average consumer is personally affected by Comcast’s bottom line, I somehow doubt it.