The implications of repealing internet protections
We are living in the most connected society of human history. Never before has the creation, storage and sharing of content been so widespread and so easy. The term “big data” is thrown around frequently today when talking about this massive creation of content—as any student in the business school can easily attest to—but the actual scale and velocity at which we create data is mind-numbing.
A report published by IBM stated that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. To put that number into perspective, a total of only 100 gigabytes were created in the entirety of 1992. What’s more impressive is the speed at which we are accelerating this creation: 90 percent of all the content that exists today was created in the past two years.
With a growing trove of information, we have become reliant on the internet and, subsequently, the telecommunication companies that provide internet access to our homes and offices. However, the internet continues to grow faster than the regulations guiding it, which represents a problem for a heavily internet-reliant society.
When you use your phone, computer or any internet-capable device, you do so with a set of expectations. You expect that you will be able to connect to any website published online. You expect that Internet Service Providers (ISP) won’t interfere with your browsing through, for example, blocking or censoring websites they don’t like; and you expect that you will be provided with the same speed on every website. These basic expectations of the internet are collectively referred to as “net neutrality;” however, they could be completely eliminated by next week.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the regulatory body tasked with overseeing communications in the United States—anything from radio to television and, more recently, internet. In 2015, the previous commission voted on an order whose goal is to make an effort to protect net neutrality.
This order reclassified the telecommunication giants, like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon under Title II of the Communications Act, which subjected these service providers to increased scrutiny and oversight by the FCC. This guaranteed net neutrality for all citizens.
These protections were not, however, enacted through the legislative procedure in Congress, so they can be easily altered over time by the changing administrations. The chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, recently announced that during the vote regarding net neutrality next week on Dec. 14, there will be yet another effort to change the status of these companies, but under Title I instead of Title II. Should this vote pass—which is highly expected given the partisan composition of the commission—those expectations for a neutral internet will no longer be guaranteed.
While this upcoming vote may sound like typical, boring bureaucratic action in Washington to some, it is actually a watershed moment in the history of the internet. This deregulation of the internet could and will open the door to any number of actions that threaten consumers’ equality on the internet. To put this into perspective for a college student, take Netflix as an example.
Netflix, the video-streaming giant, supplies an invaluable service to procrastinating college students. When you access Netflix there is an expectation that you will be able to stream video, assuming you have a reliable internet connection and a subscription. Under the potential new rules though, your ISP could charge an extra fee in their subscription just to access the website in the first place, similar to how we pay extra to access certain channels in a cable package.
But this vote goes beyond just slowing down or blocking your favorite websites.
Repealing the net neutrality rules currently in place would also facilitate private internet censorship. The companies who own ISPs and the people who manage them would in effect be able to choose which websites consumers can access. This takes dangerous steps into the realm of infringing on the First Amendment.
While Pai argues the new classification would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the responsibility to deal with these kinds of anti-competitive behavior, the FTC doesn’t have the same tools the FCC possesses. The FTC cannot issue blanket regulations and, instead, can only deal with infractions on a case-by-case basis—a clear step back for internet protection.
There is, however, an option that we can promote to help keep these protections. With such an important and wide-reaching decision, I believe our elected representatives should work together to craft legislation outlining the rights that we have as citizens and consumers. Those who agree—which given the backlash, there should be thousands of people who do—can and should contact their representatives and express their concern.