ART BY MEGAN LIEN
Imagine clicking a webpage, ready to surf your favorite site. Then, boom. As it loads and loads and loads, you begin to grow more and more impatient. “It was never like this before,” you think to yourself. And as your frustration mounts, you know you have the lack of net neutrality to thank for your predicament.
To fully understand the topic at hand, net neutrality must be defined. Net neutrality, established on Feb. 26. 2015, is the proposal that the internet is treated as a utility and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can only charge the consumer for the internet being provided, not what the internet is being used for. What this means is that ISPs cannot discriminate against what content is being delivered to the consumer over their cables — this includes slowing down or blocking services that separate firms provide.
However, since former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai has taken office as the FCC’s chairman on Jan. 23. 2017, rolling back net neutrality has been in the works. Pai’s plan to dissolve net neutrality is almost undoubtedly connected with his ties to Verizon, because removing net neutrality only explicitly benefits the ISP corporations, simultaneously harming consumers.
The push for removing net neutrality, ignorantly called “Restoring Internet Freedom” as an attempt to justify corporates’ capitalistic greed is, according to supporters, the way for ISPs to focus on expanding their networks as reason to increase business. However, because major ISPs hold near-monopolies, without net neutrality, they can prevent firms from satisfying consumers. What this means is that ISPs can charge consumers ridiculous amounts for fast internet but can also legally slow down certain applications—to a crawl — unless said application’s company pays a sum to the ISP to keep their service speeds decent; this results in the ISP gaining large amounts of money by not expanding their business, but by keeping firms on a leash. The scariest thing? This seemingly unlawful behavior would be perfectly legal.
Ridiculous… right? Unfortunately, this event has already happened. On Feb. 2014, Netflix made a deal with Comcast to improve data speeds for customers, with Netflix paying a large tax. However, why should Netflix have to pay Comcast a toll for their data to be sent to the consumer when the customer has already paid for the internet? To put it simply, the tax demonstrates the leverage ISPs will have on firms like Netflix, because Comcast essentially manhandled Netflix into becoming a quick cash cow at the expense of customer data speeds.
Furthermore, the major ISP companies gain leverage not just on the applications they unjustly tax, but also in the market. This was seen when the FCC fined Verizon Wireless over one million dollars for blocking 12 tethering apps in the Google Play store. Not only did this circumvent their claims of allowing any services to go past their network, but it also prevented customers from choosing their preferred tethering app. Without regulation, application developers will create apps that could become blocked because it overlaps with a similar service the ISP provides. This ironically enough does not sound like “restoring internet freedom,” it is giving an unprecedented amount of power to the ISP companies, and frankly, creates a totalitaristic setting in the internet.
Furthermore, it speaks levels on how the vast majority of people across the political spectrum are for net neutrality. This harmonious agreement between the individuals of all political parties unequivocally demonstrates that the “people” who are actually for “restoring internet freedom” are not consumers, they are the lackeys looking to benefit corporations. Still, some may argue that even under the financial burdens that ISPs push unto the consumer, one could just simply switch networks. Unfortunately, not only is this a spit in the face to the consumer, it is frankly implausible. Firstly, ISPs can already charge the customer whatever they want for internet. Secondly, the customer may only have access to one internet provider; take for example Hacienda Heights, in which the only ISP in the city is Frontier. Who is to say that Frontier cannot overcharge the Hacienda Heights population for additional applications when the consumers are already shilling out extreme amounts for basic internet? The answer is no one if net neutrality is rolled back.
The Internet should be treated as a utility; ISPs cannot discriminate against firms that are also looking to “increase business.” However the only difference between the firms ISPs tax and the ISPs themselves is that the applications are actually looking to expand their business.
Removing net neutrality, whether you are a consumer or Ajit Pai himself, is unquestionably pro ISP corporation and anti-consumer. Without the non-discriminatory playing field, ISPs can easily control the fundamental aspects of our internet life.