Falling without a ‘net

by Ray Weeks

I need your help, ladies and gentlemen. America needs your help. I know that sounds dramatic, but believe me—the situation calls for a little drama.

Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his plan to dismantle net neutrality. His plan promises to end government “micromanaging” of the internet, but what it’s really doing is handing control of the internet over to providers such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.

You’re probably familiar with AT&T and Verizon—they’re the companies responsible for promising internet service at speeds they continually fail to provide, and phone service that  is sketchy, at best, in this area.

You might not be as familiar with Comcast, as they don’t provide services for this area. They have had the worst customer satisfaction rating of any company in America (including the IRS) numerous times.  For decades, they have been accused of charging customers for services that were not agreed upon, refusing to cancel service, and even going so far as to keep customers on hold until their customer support offices closed.

These are the companies that Ajit Pai feels will be responsible for basically controlling the internet. Which makes sense, because he used to work for Verizon.

In case you are unfamiliar with net neutrality, let me give you a quick rundown: net neutrality is what keeps everyone on the internet on a level playing field.

It’s why you can pull up the site of a local resident selling online merchandise as quickly as you can pull up Walmart’s home page.

It’s why you can look at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram without paying an extra monthly fee.

It’s why people with good ideas can form startup businesses, and show those ventures to the world.

In short, net neutrality is why we have the internet that we have today.

Ajit Pai wants to change all that, giving larger corporations control of what we see, how fast we see it, and how much we pay to see it.

“Our Internet economy is the envy of the world because it is open to all,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, said in a statement. “This proposal tears at the foundation of that openness. It hands broadband providers the power to decide what voices to amplify, which sites we can visit, what connections we can make, and what communities we create. It throttles access, stalls opportunity, and censors content. It would be a big blunder for a slim majority of the FCC to approve these rules and saddle every Internet user with the cruel consequences.”

Parody graphic by Reddit user Quink
Parody graphic by Reddit user Quink, showing what internet packages could look like without net neutrality laws.

You might be wondering how this affects you. Think about your cable bill for a moment. Or—if you don’t have cable—your cell phone bill. Lines and lines of charges, divided up, with a dollar amount waiting at the end.

Under the new regulations, your internet providers could do the same thing to your internet bill. For example, you could be charged more for a social media package: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. Streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, for example) might fall under a “video service” category; again, with an extra charge for accessing these sites. Sports? Same thing. Email? Same.

Believe it or not, their ability to raise prices isn’t the most frightening part of this scenario. Under the proposed regulations, these companies could also control what information we have access to. Say there’s a news story about Verizon overcharging customers, or AT&T getting hacked and exposing their customers to identity theft, or Comcast breaking into your house and kicking your dog (all of these stories are hypothetical, of course); if these companies want to hide these stories, they will have that ability. Without net neutrality, the internet will become like cable TV: you will see only what the provider wants you to see.

If you’re thinking that this is all hypothetical, and I might just be screaming about the sky falling, you should know that it’s not as hypothetical as you might think.

In 2012, AT&T blocked FaceTime unless customers paid for a more expensive plan, only lifting the restriction after public interest groups filed a formal complaint with the federal regulators, and AT&T’s actions were deemed illegal. This was around the same time that the company was also fined $700,000 for switching customers to monthly data plans, after promising they would retain their unlimited plans.

From 2011 to 2012, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon blocked mobile wallets (such as Google Wallet), because it was in competition with their own digital wallet technology (named Isis, but changed to Softcard).

In 2015, AT&T was caught throttling data plans (slowing down customer connections to keep them from using data) without telling anyone, and fined $100 million. They still do this, by the way—now they just tell their customers in the fine print.

More recently, AT&T—along with Verizon and Comcast—was accused of zero rating their own content while penalizing streaming competitors. Meaning that if you used one of their services, it didn’t count against your usage, while other streaming services used your data.

Basically, they’re already doing what they aren’t supposed to be doing, while promising they won’t do it in the future.

Please take a moment to think about what you use your computer for on a daily basis: checking email, looking at pictures of friends, reading the daily news, or buying yourself something nice because it’s cold outside, and you deserve it.

Think about the things you don’t do daily, but which are still very important: filing taxes, scheduling doctor appointments, or promoting your small business.

Or maybe just reading the e-edition of your local newspaper, or listening to the Wildcats on Canadian Sports Network each Friday night.

Now imagine that you could only do those things if your ISP decides it’s okay.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty frightening world.

It’s time to take action, ladies and gentlemen.

So what should you do?

Email the FCC Leadership directly:

Contact your Representatives in Congress

Visit www.battleforthenet.com and use the tool at the top of the page to send a pre-written email, or email them directly

Mac Thornberry at http://thornberry.house.gov/contact/

Ted Cruz at http://www.cruz.senate.gov/?p=form&id=16

John Cornyn at http://www.cornyn.senate.gov/contact

You can also visit http://act.eff.org/action/congress-don-t-sell-the-internet-out to email each of these representatives.

No matter who you are, I urge you to schedule time to address this issue. It isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican. It’s about being an American. We value our freedom, and the internet offers us freedom in a way that has never been available before. Freedom to speak, freedom to learn, and freedom to know. Please take a stand to keep that freedom.

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