After digging their claws on internet privacy, the Trump administration seems to stop at no point as the Trump-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now set off to take down net neutrality in the US as well. Only a few days ago the world was shunned when President Donald Trump signed a bill that grants internet providers in the US to sell their users’ browsing data without their approval making the internet a dangerous environment where personal data and browsing history is out in the open, and sold to the highest bidder.
Earlier this week, Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dropped another bomb over net neutrality after his private meeting with major telecommunication leaders. Ajit Pai has made loud hints at rolling back net neutrality rules that were regulated during the Obama administration to make the internet an open and a free space for everyone through direct supervision by the FCC. On the other hand, Ajit Pai has made it clear that he wants to make net neutrality rules a”voluntary” commitment than “obligatory”. In order to understand the dangers of Ajit Pai’s decision, let’s shed some light on a few necessary points: what exactly is net neutrality? Its advantages and how Ajit Pai’s proposal would negatively affect the internet environment in the US.
What is Net Neutrality?
By net neutrality we mean opening the internet gate for everyone to enjoy freely by preventing ISPs and telecommunication companies from favouring any website over the other or tampering with internet speed. For example, Netflix had fallen victim to ISP-monopoly before the net neutrality regulations were implemented in 2015, when Netflix’s speeds were extremely slowed down on purpose by Comcast unless Netflix would accept whatever demands Comcast were asking for. Accordingly, subscribing to a broadband service does not mean that the broadband internet provider has the right to control by any means how individuals use their internet package or intentionally slow down their speeds. To sum it all up, net neutrality means internet equality.
Net Neutrality In The Obama-Era
In 2015, Obama coordinated with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement a “set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.” For the past 2 years since the implementation of Obama’s net neutrality law, ISPs were not allowed to restrict/block a consumer’s access to any website as long as it is legal. ISPs were also prohibited from purposely slowing down an internet connection or favouring websites by speeding up their connection. Hence, paying a fee to ISPs to get ahead of the line and get a faster connection is not permitted and wouldn’t give any website a higher priority than the other.
“We’ve got to keep the internet open. We don’t want to create a bunch of gateways that prevent someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, but has a good idea, from being able to start their next Youtube, or their next Google on the internet,” said Obama.
Even though Obama’s net neutrality law seems harmless, it did bear some disadvantages, mainly, indirectly shifting internet law enforcement to the government in a big brotherly manner. In addition, the 2015 net neutrality law was implemented in alignment with Title II of the US Federal Communications Act which does not completely prohibit ISPs from prioritizing certain websites in return for money (paid prioritization).
Despite some concerns and disagreements with the Obama net neutrality law, at least it gave consumers some satisfaction while surfing on an open and considerably free internet environment.
Trump’s Net Neutrality Nightmare
A trade-centered and monopoly-oriented administration such as Trump’s would find net neutrality bad for business. That is why Ajit Pai, ex-chairman of Verizon and current chairman of the FCC, proposed rolling back Obama’s open internet law and shifting its supervision to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which is not allowed to enforce laws to ISPs according to US law. Not only that, but also making net neutrality rules voluntary where ISPs (such as: AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon) would voluntarily agree to comply to the FTC’s net neutrality laws it in their terms and conditions to not tamper with any consumer’s internet speed by either slowing it down or speeding it up, or blocking their access to any legal web content. Pai, who opposed net neutrality in 2015, commented on the Title II order saying:
“This practice significantly raises the odds of policies that do more harm than good, actually producing net negative benefits,”
As a result, companies will need to pay ISPs generously to get faster connections which would be a stampede over small business and local websites. Further, there is no guarantee that ISPs would abide by the net neutrality law since their terms and conditions are subjected to change.