The Net Neutrality Seesaw is Tilting the Other Way

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is in the news again over Net Neutrality.  What now?

What’s the history of Net Neutrality?

During the Obama Presidency in 2015, under the chairmanship of Thomas Wheeler, the FCC established under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, that Internet Service Providers (ISP) fell into the category of ‘common carrier’ and needed to adhere to Net Neutrality rules that would ban ISPs from blocking or throttling content or charging a fee to content providers for access to faster Internet lanes.

Now, the FCC under the chairmanship of Ajit Pai, the FCC is considering changing the classification of ISP from common carrier to information service provider, essentially giving up FCC oversight and handing the job to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

What’s the difference?

Let’s assume you buy Cable TV and Internet from the same large cable company.  Let’s then consider what happens when that cable company gets into a dispute with a major television network over retransmission contracts.  While the Cable TV company is fighting with the TV network, it’s likely that the TV network will be ‘blacked out’ and unavailable on your TV until the dispute is resolved.

If net neutrality rules were in place, you could go to that TV network’s website and perhaps stream the programming that was blacked out from TV.  Without net neutrality rules, the cable TV provider — also your Internet provider—could, and likely would, block Internet access to the disputed TV network’s website.

What else could happen?

Without net neutrality rules, ISPs could charge an additional ‘fast lane’ fee to content providers like Netflix and Amazon to ensure that their content streams properly.  It wouldn’t be unlikely that the additional fee would be passed on to consumers who subscribe to these services.

Throttling is another potential problem that lack of new neutrality rules could bring about.  As media, entertainment, and cable companies continue to merge, it’s likely that an ISP like a cable company also owns a movie studio or some other media/entertainment organization.  So if this company, as an ISP, is concerned about competition, it might throttle down access to competitors’ websites as well as the streaming content they provide.

Is the FCC contradicting itself?

Maybe a little. The FCC, through its programs like the Connect America Fund (CAF) and disbursements from the Universal Services Fund (USF), has been a strong proponent of rural broadband deployment in the US.  Access to the Internet is being thought of as a utility; similar to telephone and electricity – necessities to commerce, education, and quality of life. On the other hand, after the FCC allocates what are essentially public funds, collected from telephone subscribers, for the construction of broadband infrastructure, it now wants to wash its hands of any oversight to ensure that the infrastructure is managed in a fair and equitable manner.

Basically, a national ISP could use CAF or USF funds to build a network, and then provide preferential treatment to traffic on that network.  Imagine the outrage if the Department of Transportation used public funds for a highway that only tractor trailers were allowed to use.

 How does repealing net neutrality rules help the public?

It doesn’t, it helps the country’s largest ISPs to further monetize the Internet.  Most likely, the consumer will end up paying the price of that monetization through increased fees from content providers as they try to recoup their expenses to access the Internet fast lanes. Adding insult to injury is the fact that, particularly in rural areas, competition among ISP is slim, leaving the consumer with no real choices.

Washington DC Capitol dome detail with waving american flag

Congress could step in and save Net Neutrality.

Can this be fixed?

Maybe, but we need to act fast.  If Chairman Pai prevails, the changes could take effect as soon as January of 2018.  Stopping this action will literally take an act of Congress, and that’s a tall order unless we make it painfully clear to our legislators that this is a bad idea and not in the best interest of the constituency they were elected to serve. The Hill provides some in-depth insight into how Congress could save the day.

What can we do?

We can all write to our congressmen and women, and thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), it’s simple to do.  EFF provides a prepared message that you can customize, and a portal that allows you to find your legislators by simply entering your street address and zip code.  If you prefer not to use the automated system, you can click through to an information page that will give you all the information you need to go it on your own.

What about OTELCO?

For the record,  we have never engaged, nor will we ever, in blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization on our network.  OTELCO is committed to open and equitable Internet access.