The future doesn’t look bright for Net Neutrality

By: 
LORRAINE MARIE
Special to the S-E

Those fighting Net Neutrality (NN) aren’t exactly getting prominent attention in media headlines, notes political historian and media commentator Thom Hartmann. He points out why: “MSNBC and CNN are owned by Comcast and Time Warner, two companies that stand to cash in big if Net Neutrality is destroyed.”

Net Neutrality is the equal treatment of all traffic on the worldwide web on the Internet, whether a giant corporation or a one-person business. It also serves as a protection for the consumer against “anti-competitive” actions.

The future of NN is in question with President Donald Trump’s appointment of Ajit Pai to chair the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). FCC representatives have sent a letter to top telecom industry lobbyists saying they plan to repeal net neutrality “as soon as possible.”

Opposed to NN

The new FCC chair is regarded as an expert in telecommunications law, and has served on the FCC’s five-member board since 2012. The FCC regulates the nation’s airwaves, Internet connections, television and telephones. With Pai’s appointment, the majority of board members are now opposed to NN.
Along with his years at the FCC, Pai has also been an attorney for NN antagonist Verizon.

Pai claims deregulation at the agency would promote investment, job creation and innovation, which he claims would serve to stop the divide between rich and poor Internet users.

But his past actions at the FCC have included opposition to expansion of broadband access for low-income families, opposition to broadband privacy regulations and opposition to diversity of media.

In contrast, the pro-NN organization Free Press warns that Pai has typically shown himself to be devoted to undermining public safeguards. They claim that, “he’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like.” Those mega-mergers could lead to higher costs for media and tech companies that rely on access to customers via the Internet, consumer advocates warn.

In a court decision a year ago, prior to NN, Internet providers in the U.S. were given the green light to make deals with Internet content providers, which would have resulted in providers paying extra when they put their content in a “fast lane.”

But then-President Barack Obama created net neutrality by upending the ruling by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service, effective June 2016. Currently, it is illegal for Internet providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, to create any barriers to website access, or to regulate speed, such as having a “fast lane.” As well, Internet providers must allow consumers a say in how their personal data is used and shared -- data that can be used to sell advertising that could have a specific appeal to individual Internet service consumers. But with different leadership at the FCC, TV and Internet provider lobbyists are urging the FCC to get rid of privacy protections.

The opposition

Those who oppose Net Neutrality include Verizon, Panasonic, AT&T, IBM and Corning. The argument for deregulation starts first with saying the Internet was unregulated for a time and no harm was suffered.

What are the advantages of eliminating NN? Big corporate interests are saying revenue from increased costs, which are shouldered by online companies, could instead be used to increase broadband access to more consumers. As it is currently, advocates of deregulation say it is harder for Internet service providers to recover their expenses when they invest in broadband, which they say has led to a slowing of investments that would otherwise speed up the Internet.

But some wonder if corporate financial concerns are overpowering consumer protections and driving the demise of net neutrality. The New York Times finds that scholars who submit studies to the FCC regarding NN are not required to file disclosure about their connections to industry. When investigated, conflicts of interest have been found that lend a pro-corporate slant to their “research.”

Organizations opposed to Pai’s anticipated deregulation efforts believe they will result in websites passing their higher costs on to high-speed access users. And dismantling NN could block access to some websites, or force customers to pay an extra amount to reach sites.

Pro-NN forces other than consumer advocates include human rights groups (although some oppose), on-line companies, some tech companies, the ACLU and familiar Internet destinations such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.

The inventor of the Worldwide Web also supports NN. NN, according to U.S. Sen. Al Franken, is a primary American issue at this time.

Read the full story in the Feb. 1 edition of the Statesman-Examiner. An e-edition will be available Feb. 1 at http://www.statesmanexaminer.com/e-edition.

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