The Internet: a place of freedom, knowledge and cat pictures. Ever since the widespread growth of the Internet in the 1990s, its database and content has been expanding endlessly. The Internet has undeniably become a large part of our everyday lives from face-to-face video conferences across the world to streaming Netflix on your couch. In an instant, people are able to connect with one another.While we have to pay our ISPs for Internet access and bandwidth, all of our Internet use is on a level playing field: regardless of what you are using the Internet for or what websites you go to, the ISP treats it all the same. This is called net neutrality. However yesterday, on December 14th 2017, the FCC won a 3-2 vote to repeal laws protecting net neutrality.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has been trying to change how net neutrality works since the early 2000s. Now that the FCC has won the vote what can we expect in the future for the United States? Well first off, they have the power to control Internet speed that ISPs are able to provide to their consumers. Net neutrality, which is what we Canadians have right now, states that ISPs should not be able to control what their consumers are able to see and websites are not able to gain leverage over others through payments. All websites are equally accessible; there are no websites that are easier to reach than others. ISPs will soon be able to intentionally slow down or even block certain websites in order to generate traffic towards business partnered websites. This is known as throttling, in which higher speed Internet is granted to websites who are financially able to or for other reasons. For example, say you wake up to check your Facebook and then listen to your favourite artist on YouTube. Without net neutrality, you would have to pay a social media package for Facebook and may experience a slow streaming experience due to your ISP promoting a partnered artist and manipulates other artists’ videos to do so. Ultimately, the FCC is now free to do whatever they wish, given that they state their actions publicly.
The FCC is led by Ajit Pai, appointed chairman of the FCC by Donald Trump and a former lawyer for Verizon. Pai’s previous work with Verizon definitely influences his decisions as chairman of the FCC. Net neutrality protects our privacy and access to a wide variety of website, that means ISPs cannot monitor and track what we see. He believes that net neutrality is preventing ISPs from providing efficient health care to the sick and disabled by blocking prioritization to these groups. By controlling the traffic of user access to websites, Pai claims that the prioritization to a selection of websites would “make meaningful differences in the delivery of healthcare”. This however, has not yet been openly expressed by these groups themselves. Verizon, Comcast, and other large companies are supporting Pai because they will greatly benefit from the death of net neutrality. The large general public however, has shown an overwhelmingly large amount of support for net neutrality with thousands of phone calls to congress and even protests outside Verizon retail stores. Although it may seem like Pai should have listened to the general public and kept net neutrality, Verizon and other companies were lobbying very hard to get rid of it. This was a battle between the power of American citizens and the power of lobbyists and high government officials.
The repeal of net neutrality laws are partially due to the appointment of Ajit Pai. Barack Obama, the former U.S. president, as well as the former chairman Tom Wheeler, the former FCC chairman under Obama, were both strong advocates for net neutrality. Many major businesses such as Google and Amazon have also taken a stand for the cause.
Although the issue of net neutrality is mainly a concern in the United States, it can threaten Canada’s Internet policies as well due to Canada’s close ties with the States. Supporters of net neutrality are already preparing protests and lawsuits against the FCC. Canadian citizens may now seek reassurance from their politicians that net neutrality remain in Canada.