The Future Of The Internet Depends On Net Neutrality — And Big Companies Aren't The Only Ones That Get A Say

People are sounding the alarm — and taking action.

The net neutrality debate is back on center stage after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Tuesday that it plans to roll back regulations that provide fair and unfettered access to the Internet.

Those regulations were a centerpiece of former President Barack Obama's legacy and enjoy broad support across party lines. But the FCC's announcement has left many Americans concerned they will see extra charges, discriminatory practices and service manipulation for certain websites and applications. 



Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman who made the proposal, is pitching the end of net neutrality as a way to stop the federal government from micromanaging the Internet. He says that, as long as Internet Service Providers like Verizon and Comcast are transparent, users will simply decide what ISPs they want to use and why.

Critics, though, are unconvinced. They say the new plan will allow broadband Internet providers to slow down loading times or even entirely block websites or applications that may be competing with companies they own. During an interview with PBS NewsHour, an anchor posed this hypothetical to Pai: what if Comcast were to create a new television series that competed with a Netflix television series? Without regulations, couldn't Comcast then slow down access to Netflix in order to boost the viewership of their own show, hurting the consumer and increasing Comcast's profits? 

Pai's answer was that the anchor's hypothetical was merely a hypothetical and that we don't see examples of this happening in the marketplace. As John Oliver pointed out on Last Week Tonight, that's patently untrue (there have been many). 

The FCC commission will vote on the new proposal Dec. 14, and the Republican-majority commission is expected to approve the deregulation along party lines. Still, the policy shift may take time. Lawsuits and a public outcry could hold up the process.

Rohit Khanna — a lawyer and politician in California — tried to give Americans a look at what the future might be like if net neutrality is not adequately protected. In Portugal, where there are no net neutrality rules, ISPs are splitting the Internet into packages. 

Other Twitter users took a more direct approach to expressing their concerns.

Now the net neutrality debate is once again turning into a political hot topic. While liberals tend to be more in favor of net neutrality, a Mozilla and Ipsos poll from May of 2017 found that 81 percent of Democrats supported net neutrality and 73 percent of Republicans supported it. If the FCC goes through with its plan, it could prompt action from Congress to try and draft net neutrality laws to mitigate the damage. 

Other online goliaths like Facebook and Google oppose Pai's proposal, saying they expect ISPs to play favorites and force websites to pay money for faster load times.

"We are disappointed that the proposal announced today by the FCC fails to maintain the strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the internet remains open for everyone," Erin Egan, Facebook vice president, said in a statement to The New York Times. "We will work with all stakeholders committed to this principle."

There is good news, though: it's possible to get involved in the conversation. Nothing is official yet, and whether you support de-regulation or net neutrality, the FCC has opened comments on the resolution, and you can go leave your thoughts there if you'd like. Websites trying to protect net neutrality like battleforthenet.com also have tons of resources on how to participate in the conversation. There are protests happening all over the country against Verizon, who is lobbying to eliminate the net neutrality regulations. And, of course, you can always call your representatives and tell them how you feel. 

Cover image via REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn.

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