Well, yesterday the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission gave us all an early stocking-stuffer. Connecticut residents and Internet users across the country are the recipients of an unwanted gift: new rules that will lift restrictions on the ability of Internet service providers to execute a pay-to-play model for content creators.
The end of the so-called net neutrality rules that have been the order of the day since 2015 when the administration of President Barack Obama put them in place would likely mean, as aptly described by the tech site Inverse, that “service providers like Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon could give huge tech company customers like Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu access to priority ‘fast lanes,’ which would leave smaller companies at a disadvantage if they can’t afford to pay ISPs for that access.”
Right, so compare it to a toll road — I know we don’t have tolls anymore in Connecticut, though that could be changing in the near future, but try to envision it anyway. Imagine that there was one lane in which you could drive faster toll-free if you were in a BMW because the auto company had paid a fee to the turnpike authority.
I think this will be terrible news, not only for smaller content providers such as CTNewsJunkie, but for medium-sized outlets that simply cannot budget for the sums needed to bribe the ISPs to ensure that pages load in a timely manner and files move at the speed they should. Disclosure: in my day job, I also work full-time for a small start-up, web-only news site, the Berkshire Edge, and have reported on this topic there, so I do have a dog in this fight.
Theoretically, ISPs could block or throttle content they don’t like. So if I write a column or CTNJ publishes a piece critical of Comcast — or NBC Universal, which it owns and whose voluminous content it could now favor — might the suits at Comcast be tempted to slow down how our pages load on their vast network?
There are so many implications here and I am inherently suspicious of just about any major policy change favored by giant corporations. After all, in addition to Comcast, Charter-Spectrum, Verizon, and Cox all applaud FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s move to end NN. This despite the fact that most of the telecom companies insist they are still for a “free and open Internet” and will never throttle you.
To their credit, Connecticut’s representatives in Washington have largely opposed the move to allow the tech companies to favor monied interests. Both Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal oppose the end of NN and were among those who signed a letter from 13 Democratic senators that was published in Tech Crunch this past spring.
“By proposing to take away the existing net neutrality protections, President Trump’s FCC is threatening to take away your ability to have free and open use of the internet,” the senators wrote. “Taking away these rules benefits no one except cable, telephone, and wireless broadband companies.”
My congressional representative in Washington, Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, has defended NN and declared in a Facebook post that the FCC’s decision will “determine whether or not we care about innovation, job growth, freedom of expression, and core democratic values in our society.” She further blasted the commission for using “the cover of a holiday to erode the safeguards of a free and open internet.”
Rep. Rosa Delauro, D-3rd District, put up a video on Facebook saying much the same thing. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, took to YouTube to express his concerns about the elimination of NN, as did Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
Before Thursday’s vote, I could find nothing specific related to NN on the website of Rep. John Larson of the 1st District. Although, following Thursday’s vote, Larson did release a statement on the subject expressing disappointment and highlighting the fact that he was among the House members who, on December 13, requested that the vote be delayed.
Speaking of telecom companies, the idea that NN is somehow stifling investment and innovation in the internet is nonsense. Studies have shown that those companies are spending less on their networks even as they make more money off of them.
On the one hand, I have no problem with ISPs charging some content providers more if they suck up enormous amounts of bandwidth and capacity. Video streaming services such as Netflix, for example, account for about 70 percent of peak internet traffic in North America, with Netflix alone accounting for 37 percent of it. After all, as one tech expert told me, “Trucks do pay higher tolls and extra taxes.” Yes, but those trucks don’t get a high-speed lane in return.
Let’s hope Congress takes up this issue and that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has learned that millions of fake public comments were made to the FCC, is successful in leading a multi-state challenge to the decision. Schneiderman says so far the FCC has refused to cooperate with his investigation into the fake comments.
That should tell you all you need to know.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.