Net Neutrality: Should We Brace for Bigger Bills and Less Service?

Richard Campbell

Net Neutrality has worked pretty well for the country in keeping the internet playing field level for small businesses and organizations compared to large corporations. For small businesses that have almost none of the advantages of their large competitors, having the ability to advertise and do business on the internet freely with full bandwidth has spawned an incredible entrepreneurial surge in this nation. The FCC voted to end net neutrality on December 14, claiming that the decision will drive expansion of high speed internet services. The decision sparked law suits and protests all over the place.

Critics of the roll back of net neutrality law say that corporations that control ISP’s, such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Sprint really don’t need extra help in maintaining a hegemony of power over the consumer. But what is net neutrality? What net neutrality means is that the big network providers (ISP’s) can’t discriminate against smaller carriers and operators by dominating the internet and playing favorites to big commercial concerns, or providing slower service to certain content and users. It is a complicated issue.  Polls show a majority (82%) of consumers, regardless of their political persuasion, are against rolling back net neutrality.  If you own a small business, work in education, or rely upon the internet to give you unfettered access to information at a fair price, or like streaming content- net neutrality is probably your friend.

When the FCC voted to end net neutrality on December 14, that didn’t end the issue, but rather started the battle for consumers. Congress can use the Congressional Review Act to overrule the FCC, and according to WIRED magazine “only Congress can fix net neutrality.”  The “fix” in general would be to restore the provisions to prevent internet service providers from charging more for certain content on the internet, censoring, or creating fast lanes and slow lanes for users. Despite the claims of Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC that this rollback of rules “would eventually benefit consumers,” not many technology scholars are buying it. Everybody from Google to Facebook and 18 attorneys general from the states of Virginia, Delaware, Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Oregon, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington, Vermont and the District of Columbia have objected to this law, and more than a few states (Massachusetts included) are suing the Federal government for this incursion upon the average citizen’s internet access.

Because the issue is so technical, many sources reveal conflicting information about the outcome of the repeal of net neutrality, but a distinct majority believes it will mean higher bills and less access. The larger meaning of this rush to remove consumer protections on the internet and media is lost on most people, who often no longer understand why our government protects us from one company owning all our local media access- so companies are not allowed to own our TV station, our local newspaper, and our local radio station, thereby creating a media monopoly.  The effects of this current reversal of the law may not be seen for a little while, but I have the sneaking suspicion that once people start getting fleeced for erratic service, a sudden surge in consciousness will occur.

This is all an indication of the direction of a lot of big money interests’ complete freedom to merge into conglomerates in both media and telecommunications. Most internet users are not even aware of how few media companies control the majority of information they access.  While there is dispute about exactly how much the top media conglomerates own of our attention, the mergers have made the pool a lot smaller in the past twenty years. But what difference does it make, when people are so uneducated they think Facebook is a news media company? It makes a lot of difference in a free society.

This kind of conglomeration is creating a corporate interest stranglehold on free information, that has blurred the lines between fake content manufactured by special interests, and objective news reporting. Now more than ever we need the major media in this country to maintain some independence from other powerful corporate interests.  The same media companies not only want to own all the media generated, but they also want to control access to the internet platform. To go this one step further is to pretty much eliminate small business competition completely.  The repeal of net neutrality is not a “political” issue- though some would like it to be. The internet has changed a lot over the years, and there are things about the wild west of information that are objectionable, but turning it into overpriced TV is not the solution.

Jeanne Rooney

Jeanne Rooney is the Editor in Chief for South Boston Online.