2017. Hell of a year it’s been.
No matter your fancy, there’s been something to get outraged about. Wedding cakes, football players, national parks, a border wall, tax reform, healthcare, and climate change have been among the highlights. Chances are if you’re reading this at some point this year you took to Facebook or Twitter to voice your social/political frustrations or at least engage in some social media voyeurism of a friend’s post. Frankly, it has all been rather exhausting—so much so that the phrase Outrage Fatigue is now a thing.
But as we prepare to ring in the New Year with our friends and loved ones, the FCC is betting on your fatigue and apathy to roll back net neutrality regulations put in place by the Obama administration.
So why exactly should you care? Why should you push through your outrage fatigue? Because rolling back net neutrality will fundamentally change everything about the internet. That’s not hyperbole. This is about how the internet is accessed, what is available through the internet and who controls all of the things we now take for granted. Sure, we all expect to pay for internet access (or to go find a public source), but once we have access, we expect that all content will be equally accessible. Commoditizing these elements by rolling back current regulations will allow companies like Spectrum (f/k/a Time Warner Cable) to have virtually unlimited control over content and access.
Yup, Spectrum. The cable company with such an outstanding record of customer service will only provide better service with greater control over consumers and decreased competition. Said no one ever.
But what about real world examples you ask? Well this is more than theory. Net neutrality is more than just a “solution for a problem that doesn’t exist” as some would have you believe. In fact, this is a problem which has existed since at least 2005 when internet service provider Madison River Communications was sanctioned by the FCC for blocking content of customers. Prior to entering a consent order with the FCC, Madison River Communications was blocking access to VOIP service Vonage (remember Vonage? It was the internet phone system that was all the rage in the mid-2000s). After receiving complaints from customers, Vonage filed a complaint with the FCC. For additional examples of net neutrality violations check out this freepress article.
Unfortunately, without net neutrality regulations, the FCC is powerless to stop cable and internet companies from this sort of monopolistic behavior. Without net neutrality Spectrum Cable can block access or charge extra for things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, apps or even this very article (and I’m not going to kid myself—nobody is paying $5 to read this article).
This requires us to think about the fundamental nature the internet now plays in our lives. It creates new jobs (virtually all net new jobs according to the Kaufman foundation), it drives economic growth, it supports equal access to information and education, it provides job training for those looking to improve their lives, and gives family and friends a way to communicate and share their daily lives more than ever imagined. Simply put, in 2017 the internet impacts and influences virtually every aspect of our lives.
So it should surprise exactly no one that as soon as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his intentions to undo net neutrality rules, that virtually the entire startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem lashed out. In a letter sent to the FCC Chairman, a group of 800 startups, entrepreneurs, incubators and investors objected to the proposed changes. The letter warned the FCC that:
[w]ithout net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market. They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice. Those actions directly impede an entrepreneur’s ability to ‘start a business, immediately reach a worldwide customer base, and disrupt an entire industry.’ Our companies should be able to compete with incumbents on the quality of our products and services, not our capacity to pay tolls to Internet access providers…rather than dismantling regulations that allow the startup ecosystem to thrive, we urge you to focus instead on policies that would promote a stronger Internet for everyone.
Make no mistake, this is the Edison/Tesla moment of our generation. This is where we decide between efficient and affordable widespread access to internet or commoditization of access which prioritizes profit over innovation. If greed and apathy win, much like with energy, we will be judged accordingly.
So what can you do?
- The easiest thing you can do is submit a public comment to the FCC in opposition to the by clicking here (then click the “express” button on the right).
- Next, you can call your officials in Congress and voice your opposition. Not sure who your representative is? Click here and enter your address.
- Lastly, call your elected state officials and encourage them to pass state legislation on net neutrality (we’ll leave the preemption issue for another day).