It’s easy to be cynical about politics in America, where the men and women making the laws seem to be less interested in what they can do to benefit the common people and more interested in keeping lobbyists happy so that they can keep the huge campaign donations rolling in and hopefully stick around in their nice offices with their cushy jobs for another couple years.
It’s no wonder why the approval rating for congress has hovered between a dismal 15% and a downright embarrassing 9% the last few years.
But this February the FCC made a decision that appears to benefit the common people rather than powerful business interests, voting 3 – 2 to maintain net neutrality rather than let ISPs offer faster service to the big sites that can afford it and squeeze out the sites that can’t.
Before we go too in-depth on this subject, allow Luis Alvarez, CEO of Alvarez Technology Group, to explain what net neutrality actually is:
“Net neutrality [ensures] that every person on the internet is treated equally, that is that the people who own the pipes we use, the Comcasts, the Verizons, the Time Warners of the world, can’t dictate who gets better performance than somebody else, and they can’t charge more to get that better performance. So the idea is that the internet is a democratic, ultimately equal place everyone should have access to equally.”
So, how do ISPs justify fighting against regulations that support a free and democratic internet?
“On the other side,” Alvarez continued. “People like Comcast and Verizon say ‘Hey, look, we have certain bandwidth hogs, in particular all the streaming video that’s out there, that’s forcing us to upgrade our networks and invest a lot of money, and if we’re not going to get any more money to do so that’s going to stifle innovation.’”
That’s a somewhat legitimate concern, but good luck getting people to feel sorry for businesses the size of Comcast or Verizon having to invest some of the billions of dollars in profit they make every year in improving their infrastructure.
Big business almost had its way, but internet users everywhere across these United States spoke up until they couldn’t be ignored:
“The whole idea of net neutrality was something that was inside the Beltway for a long time, you had powerful interests lobbying against any sort of net neutrality rulings, and for a while there it seemed like the FCC was just going to side with the folks that basically have all the money and say ‘okay, well, they can set minimums and maximums, and they can charge extra for access’. But it became this cause célèbre, if you will, and many public advocates went online and started creating so much noise that the FCC had to back off.”
The Fight is Far From Over
But we’re not quite out of the woods yet. As soon as the rules went into effect, the FCC was sued by AT&T, CenturyLink, and many other ISPs hoping to reverse the ruling.
It’s important to also note that the new FCC regulations regarding net neutrality are a whopping 330 pages long. Did they really need 330 pages to say “hey, if you’re a big ISP, you can’t throttle other services”? The public was not able to read those pages before the new rules were passed, so no one really knows if there are any contradictions to the core principles of net neutrality hidden in those hundreds of pages. And who knows what the FCC will do in the future…
“[Now] it’s subject to any rules the FCC wants to apply, so they may say now ‘okay we don’t want to do anything now but net neutrality’, but that’s a Pandora’s Box, and once you open it you don’t know where you’re going to go. It’s a victory for the people, but it’s one of those things of ‘be careful what you wish for’, because we don’t know what the end result is going to be.”
Indeed, even if this ruling was in good faith and none of the passages in those 330 pages fly in the face of net neutrality, the effects are all too temporary. The president is allowed to appoint 3 of the FCC commission’s 5 members, and that majority is all it would take to overturn this ruling and allow ISPs to do what they want.
The 2 Republicans on the FCC commission were responsible for the 2 votes against net neutrality in the 3-2 ruling. It’s easy to imagine that if in 2016 a Republican is voted into the White House, the FCC could see a regime change that is more accommodating to big business.
We’ve won the battle, but the war is far from over, and with the amount of money that ISPs stand to make if things go their way, it may never be.