August 19, 2018 | ° F

Could this be the end of net neutrality?

Technological progress is threatened by corporate interests

If you were on Netflix, Tumblr or Etsy yesterday, you might have noticed banners and popups with alerts about Internet slow lanes. This was all part of a mass “demonstration” on many popular websites to protest the Federal Communication Commission’s proposed changes to net neutrality rules, ahead of a September 15 deadline for the FCC’s statement.

Since the inception of the Internet, it’s been running on the principle of net neutrality: that Internet service providers do not favor or block any particular websites or content and enable equal access to all of them regardless of their source. From giants like Netflix to small GoDaddy websites, downloading speeds are supposed to be the same. You shouldn’t be able to pay Internet service providers to make your website’s download speed faster than others. 

But the FCC is out to change that. In the interests of giant companies such as Comcast, they are proposing to allow Internet providers to charge content providers for priority access to customers, “provided the agreement is commercially reasonable.” This would essentially create Internet fast lanes that some customers will have to pay for at the expense of others. 

“Commercially reasonable” is an awfully vague term, especially when referring to content on the Internet. And if it’s up to the FCC to decide whether something is commercially reasonable or not, we don’t really expect it to be. The proposal to change already established rules regarding net neutrality is obviously driven by corporate interests — and the consequences go far beyond simply slowing down our Netflix streams. 

Comcast is already monopolizing the broadband market, and giving them this ability to charge content providers will give them even more power. We’re moving closer to a very near future where this one giant company controls the entire market — and when there’s that much of a monopoly, there’s going to be very little incentive for Comcast to improve its services for consumers. This is just going to make it easier for Comcast to push around whatever competitors it might have left and extort money to provide better Internet service. 

How is this even legal? This type of monopoly is the exact opposite of what a free market is supposed to be about, and the very rules that were put in place to avoid this kind of disaster have in fact created it. Here’s to the FCC for managing to be one of the most counterproductive government agencies we have. 

We’re holding back our capacity to advance technologically simply to serve the interests of powerful entities such as Comcast, and that should worry everyone — whether you’re addicted to the Internet or not. This is about much more than Internet fast lanes or content that could essentially become blocked. The kind of technological progress we’ve seen over the past two decades, particularly with the Internet, is proof that we have so much potential to advance rapidly. But if we’re going to be held back by power-hungry, moneymaking machines that are apparently backed by our own federal government, we’re facing obstacles that might take years to overcome before we get anywhere.

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