Lacking Net Neutrality Presents Public Safety Risks

It’s horrible that ISPs slowed speeds to emergency respondents in the wake of massive wildfires. The issue of net neutrality is really quite simple at its core — it’s about whether ISPs will have too much control over user access to the Internet or not. The large ISPs would prefer as much control as possible to increase their profits, even if that’s at the expense of public safety.

An ongoing study first reported by Bloomberg reveals the extent to which major American telecom companies are throttling video content on apps such as YouTube and Netflix on mobile phones in the wake of the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealing national net neutrality protections last December.

Researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst used a smartphone app called Wehe, which has been downloaded by about 100,000 users, to track when wireless carriers engage in data “differentiation,” or when companies alter download speeds depending on the type of content, which violates a key tenet of the repealed rules.

Between January and May of this year, Wehe detected differentiation by Verizon 11,100 times; AT&T 8,398 times; T-Mobile 3,900 times; and Sprint 339 times. David Choffnes, one of the study’s authors and the app’s developer, told Bloomberg that YouTube was the top target, but carriers also slowed down speeds for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and the NBC Sports app.

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Jeremy Gillula, tech policy director at Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed to Verizon slowing down data speeds as Santa Clara County emergency responders battled the largest fire in California’s history. Verizon claimed it was a “customer-support mistake,” but county counsel James Williams said it proves that ISPs “will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety,” and “that is exactly what the Trump administration’s repeal of net neutrality allows and encourages.”

That example, Gillula told Bloomberg, demonstrates “that ISPs are happy to use words like ‘unlimited’ and ‘no throttling’ in their public statements, but then give themselves the right to throttle certain traffic by burying some esoteric language in the fine print” of service contracts. “As a result, it’s especially important that consumers have tools like this to measure whether or not their ISP is throttling certain services.”

FCC Votes to Dismantle Net Neutrality

Despite the immense supermajority public support for net neutrality, the U.S. Congress under Republican control doesn’t look like it will reverse the FCC’s decision either. Giving ISPs power to slow, block, and charge more for select Internet services is really going to enrage a lot of people in the coming months, and this will hopefully damage congressional Republican chances in 2018.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies the power to potentially reshape Americans’ online experiences.

The agency scrapped the so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone service.

The action reversed the agency’s 2015 decision, during the Obama administration, to have stronger oversight over broadband providers as Americans have migrated to the internet for most communications. It reflected the view of the Trump administration and the new F.C.C. chairman that unregulated business will eventually yield innovation and help the economy.

It will take weeks for the repeal to go into effect, so consumers will not see any of the potential changes right away. But the political and legal fight started immediately. Numerous Democrats on Capitol Hill called for a bill that would reestablish the rules, and several Democratic state attorneys general, including Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, said they would file a suit to stop the change.

Several public interest groups including Public Knowledge and the National Hispanic Media Coalition also promised to file a suit. The Internet Association, the trade group that represents big tech firms such as Google and Facebook, said it also was considering legal action.

U.S. Net Neutrality May be Dismantled Tomorrow

It will justifiably cause massive protests if the FCC actually dismantles net neutrality.

Despite new polling that shows more than 80 percent of Americans oppose Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to repeal net neutrality protections for the internet—which has provoked months of national protests—the FCC is disregarding that concern and will carry out its scheduled vote on the proposal Thursday.

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Ultimately, 83 percent of registered voters—75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats, and 86 percent of Independents—said they oppose Pai’s plan to allow service providers to control download speeds, limit or block access to certain websites, and charge consumers extra fees for broader access.

“A decision to repeal net neutrality would be tacking against strong headwinds of public opinion blowing in the opposite direction,” said Steven Kull, who directs the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, which conducted the poll.

Responding to concerns over the proposed rollback, members of Congress on Wednesday condemned the plan and numerous lawmakers, from both major parties, have joined calls on Pai to delay the vote or abandon the effort completely.

“Repealing net neutrality rules will benefit just a few powerful corporations—and it will do so at the expense of small businesses, consumers, and hardworking Americans, whose persistent and passionate voices on this issue have been completely ignored by the FCC’s Republican majority,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said on the floor of the Senate this week. “This is not about partisanship. Republicans and Democrats alike benefit from the power of an open Internet, and equally stand to be harmed if the rules of the road ensuring its openness go away.”

The widespread opposition is visible online and in the streets, as a massive mobilization against the upcoming vote continues across the web and with hundreds expected to turn out on Thursday morning for a demonstration at FCC headquarters.

The Net Neutrality Wake-Up Call Rally—as Thursday’s protest is being called—is hosted by Voices for Internet Freedom, a coalition that focuses on the digital rights of communities of color and includes Color Of Change, Free Press Action Fund, 18 Million Rising, the Center for Media Justice, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

The rally will feature speakers from some of those organizations as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

“Nationwide voters are rising up against the unjust, immoral, and unseemly role of corporate money in our political system. They are sick and tired of the naked pay-to-play corporatism on display in tomorrow’s vote,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause.

Copps warned that with the vote, the internet could become “a shadowy world of monopoly, commercialism, and conspiracy in restraint of democracy that totally subverts the promise of what might have been.”

“There is still time to pull back from the precipice but unfortunately it is hard to imagine Ajit Pai reversing course and voting in the public’s interest on net neutrality. The will of the American people has been ignored to date for the benefit of deep-pocketed special interests,” Copps concluded, alluding to Pai’s ties to companies that stand to benefit from his proposals—from his “massive handout” to Sinclair Broadcast Group by rolling back media ownership rules to appeasing Verizon by dismantling net neutrality.

Net Neutrality’s Importance

Net neutrality is a doctrine that says Internet service providers should treat Internet traffic that flows over their networks fairly. The repeal of net neutrality means that even more unjust control will be granted to the corporate sector, which could then decide to charge people extra money per month to visit specific websites or even outright block them. So if you’re a U.S. citizen and appreciate the Internet, you should tell Congress to prevent net neutrality from being eliminated.