Well, they’ve done it. Net neutrality is dead.
I first wrote about net neutrality in June of 2014. At that time, we all had a unique opportunity to voice our concerns in a democratic forum, in which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was seeking public comments for 120 days.
There has been an abundance of information available to help form opinions and explain the situation. Initially, I was in opposition to net neutrality, but as I learned about the caveats and supporters behind a tiered service, it became obvious that most of the arguments in favor of eliminating net neutrality were disingenuous at best.
The telling and final point of clear bias in the elimination of net neutrality was that the vote fell along party lines. The head of the FCC, Trump appointee Ajit Pai, has been quoted offering reassurances that the alarmist concerns of citizens and industry leaders will not be realized. I’ve put, “Trump appointee” as part of the description because for at least one-half of the citizenry of the United States (and polls suggest more than half at this point), that alone is cause for deep concern.
There has been unprecedented citizen and consumer group objection to ending net neutrality, with major tech industry names, such as Google, similarly opposing any change. There has also been late breaking controversy about consumer comments that were ‘fake’. In fact, in a follow-up article that I wrote (Net neutrality isn’t dead yet) my own casual review of comments, available to anyone for download, revealed many meaningless entries. Considering, however, that over a million comments were received over a five-month period, even if only half are legitimate comments, that is an exceptional public response.
Past arguments aside however, the deal is done. What counts now is what comes next.
And that part is still an uncertainty. We just do not know exactly who will take advantage of this and how, although we can guess at which entities would stand to benefit and which would stand to lose.
What we do know is that telecom corporations are not friends. No matter how they market to us, they are not friends. These corporations can be decent and treat customers and the planet fairly, but they are still not friends. In other words, they do not favor us because they know us and love us and will stand by us, even at their own expense. So, at the end of the day, every telecom corporation will decide what it needs and wants for itself and what is best for their shareholders.
Consumers will matter, but as hay for the horses, not as guests of honor.
And other uses of the Internet, such as email, do not suffer appreciably from slower or erratic transmission speeds. Even an entertainment use of the Internet, such as Netflix, is a special case — if they cannot ensure excellent throughput the service is unusable, and I would argue that their customers would agree.
What’s more concerning, however, are the full range of services that are neither a matter of life and death, or functionally impossible, but nonetheless diminished, without unfettered access to the full transmission potential that is available.
For example, virtual worlds.
Virtual worlds is not a mainstream activity like email or television watching. Virtual worlds receive scant press and have relatively low numbers of participants. Most significantly, systems such as OpenSim and even Second Life depend on offering free visitor access.
And now with platforms such as High Fidelity using greater distribution of the processing mechanisms, excellent Internet speed is more essential than ever.
Will ISPs throttle such uses without the payment of fees that would essentially kill the growth of the technology? That’s the question not yet answered. But it’s easy to see how such technologies are vulnerable to such considerations.
Formally, companies such as AT&T are projecting a benign keep-the-status-quo message: “…The internet will continue to work tomorrow just as it always has.” But just consider the title of the source statement for that excerpt: “AT&T Statement on FCC Vote to Restore Internet Freedom.”
In other words, AT&T has viewed net neutrality as a constraint on freedom — freedom to manipulate as providers see fit — not as a freedom for all users to access the Internet equally, or freedom from manipulation. See how easy it is to twist a single word into two entirely different sets of consequences?
With the end of net neutrality we have few answers, but many concerns. We should all watch and monitor what happens next. Maybe our worst fears will remain fears and nothing more. After all, we live on a planet with thousands of nuclear weapons, obviously a far greater threat, and yet, so far, we are still here without a global nuclear winter actually occurring.
But I end this update with the feeling that, as happens so often, citizen concerns are basically set aside by governments that time and time again promote the myth that if major corporations are treated like benevolent princes and princesses and granted a wealth of privileges, they will bestow nothing but blessings on all their loyal subjects. That is a trumped up hope – pun intended.