Last May the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began a rollback of Net Neutrality rules, a set of Obama administration regulations that heavily regulated Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide equal Internet access to all available Internet sites. Along party lines, the FCC voted its Republican majority 2-1 to propose new rules that would relax the strict neutrality of Internet access that consumers have enjoyed for virtually all of the Internet’s history.
But let’s step back a bit. To begin with, millions and millions of Americans who use the Internet daily have enjoyed its neutrality all along without even knowing it. When they log on to the Internet, they expect to be connected with their desired site without imposed delay, accelerated speed or extra charge, and they expect to be connected in this way independent of which Internet address they type in. This is because ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have been prohibited by regulation to speed, slow or block any access to content, applications or websites a consumer may wish to visit.
All this is in jeopardy, however, as President Trump’s appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, says that existing neutrality rules are nothing more than an unnecessary bureaucratic burden placed upon the industry’s ISPs. He says regulation of ISPs is unnecessary because ISPs have no plans to block content or favor network performance based on which sites one might wish to visit.
If so, why does dumping Net Neutrality matter so much to them? Are we really to weep for the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon – all huge beneficiaries of the wealth generated from the oligopolistic markets in which they participate and essentially control? It’s not that these companies are so bad, but only competitive golfers can rightfully call penalties on themselves in the interests of competitive spirit, and that honor should not be extended to corporate boardrooms.
And why should the forging industry care? Here’s a hypothetical example, and let’s hope it is a far-fetched one. Communications giant AT&T is currently in a regulatory fight to acquire another giant, Time Warner, for $85 billion. Should the deal be allowed to proceed, AT&T (through Time Warner) will own HBO, producer of the successful “Game of Thrones” series.
Let’s say during this time that fictional XYZ Steel Company develops an innovative new steel forging alloy that you want information about from the Internet. If Net Neutrality is lifted, you might type in XYZ Steel to get information through AT&T’s network and be bombarded with promotional stories about fictional Valyrian Steel used to make blades on “Game of Thrones,” but nothing about XYZ Steel. As editor of FORGE, I get these already, so this is not an entirely made-up scenario.
For business in general, commerce in the modern age depends greatly and increasingly on a free and equal Internet to: launch and introduce new businesses; market products and services; inform consumers about which of these might be better than others; facilitate job growth and fulfillment; facilitate cash flow and transactions; and so much more. All of these functions are far too important to leave in the hands of a self-regulated handful of communications giants that hold the keys to the Internet gate.
The way I see it, the repeal of Net Neutrality regulations is the first baby step toward a censored Internet that is more reminiscent of China or North Korea than of the freedoms we enjoy in America.