Preserve Net Neutrality

net neutrality

I hate getting political on any topic. Ask my Digital Crack mates. I’ll talk about my sex life before I mention politics. Of course, there isn’t much to say about my sex life, so that’s simpler. But I digress.

Unfortunately, politics just tried to facepalm my way of life. Just recently, the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal the net neutrality rules that were put in place in 2015. The sum effect of the repeal is that the Title II classification of landline and mobile broadband networks has been changed.

Why is that important? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Under Title II protection, broadband internet was given the same protections as your radio service. Meaning, no service provider could prioritize someone else’s use of the service over yours. Title II protection refers to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which was amended in 1996. The text is boring as hell; I’ll link it for those who want to read the details. What it basically says is that services under Title II protection cannot be prioritized for anyone. Regardless of import or monetary interest.

Why is that important? Well, I’m glad you asked.

In 2015, the FCC decided that broadband internet access was as essential for American consumers as telephone service. It was so essential, in fact, that it needed the same protections that were put in place to help break up the monopoly that AT&T enjoyed back in the 80s. It would prevent ISPs like Comcast and Verizon from prioritizing their content over your Netflix and YouTube traffic. Basically, it was the same mentality that prevented Ma Bell from monopolizing the average consumer’s ability to talk to someone else via landline telephones.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’ll lay out my case. Be prepared, there’s a lot more reading involved.

The only reason why the FCC had to vote on net neutrality was thanks to Verizon themselves. In Verizon Communications Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, Verizon sought to overturn the restrictions sought by the FCC Open Internet Order of 2010. That Order laid the foundation for net neutrality. Verizon opposed it. They’re not the only ones.

Huge corporations like Time Warner, Comcast, and Verizon want to be able to prioritize the traffic that travels through their internet backbones as they see fit. In a way it makes sense. They’re the ones who had to lay the cables and maintain the trunks that make up the internet’s backbone. It’s only logical that they get to dictate how traffic flows through their pipes and how important it is.

But in the process, they’ve become a bit too greedy. It’s like the old tales of trolls guarding bridges. Back in the day, the trolls merely asked that you pay for access to the bridge. But in this case, the trolls want to decide how you cross the bridge, and how quickly you’re allowed to cross it.

For the last year-plus, I’ve been forced to pay an extra $30 per month by my ISP, Comcast. I’ve had to pay the extra coin because I regularly exceed their data cap for my service. I have no choice; I work from home and have to regularly transfer large files to clients. When Comcast began the data cap, they placed the limit at 300GB per month. After that cap, I was expected to pay $10 for every 10GB I exceeded the data cap.

I’m not helped by the fact that I “cut the cord” long ago. I do not subscribe to their cable TV service, nor have I had a need to subscribe to their phone service. The benefit is that I’m not a slave to the content they decide to dole out. The chief drawback is that I end up consuming more data than usual. In addition to my data consumption due to work, I eat up bandwidth when viewing content on Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and YouTube. In addition, I regularly play games on my PS$, Xbox One, and PC. Even the single-player games I play on the PS4 and Xbox One want to download huge updates from time to time.

To be fair, the data cap started at 300GB per month but grew to 1TB per month after some time. It didn’t matter in my case; I was what Comcast deemed to be in the 90th percentile of users. Those are the users that eat up data at a rate above most others.

Thankfully, Comcast did give me a three-month grace period to curb my internet habits. Of course, I couldn’t curb my data habits. Just working from home eats up 500GB per month in data. I know because I spent three months measuring it. The remaining data I consumed was with services Comcast had no real control in.

Under the tenets of net neutrality, Comcast needs to sit down, shut the fuck up, and provide me an internet connection.

Why is that important? Well, I’m glad you asked.

With the repeal of net neutrality protections, Comcast can freely nickel-and-dime me. They’ll look at my traffic patterns and see that I prefer YouTube, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Netflix over their TV service. What’s stopping them from charging me more for unfettered access to those services? I mean, they already charge me extra for consuming data above a specified amount. Why not charge me more for visiting services that are not theirs?

Let’s bring it closer to home. The services I use include gaming in addition to TV and movies. I am relatively active on Xbox Live, PSN, Steam, and GOG.com. What if Comcast decided to charge me a “gamer tax”? That would mean that I would have to pay more for the ability to play video games online. Those are services that were protected by net neutrality. With net neutrality was rescinded by a 3-2 vote, what is preventing Comcast from charging me extra for that?

Let’s get more insidious. What if Comcast decided to be more surreptitious with their greed? What if Steam, PSN, and Xbox Live paid them on the down low to keep their services unfettered? That would be great for me initially. But what if I wanted to play a game on GOG that required internet access. What if the game was on Ubisoft’s Uplay? What if I decided to revisit my main on World of Warcraft and I had to log in via Battle.Net. What would happen then?

Obviously, I’m screwed as a consumer. Comcast has me almost literally by the balls. It’s not like I can switch to a competitor that won’t nickel-and-dime me. Broadband providers like Time Warner and Verizon are not in my area. AT&T is available, but the infrastructure isn’t able to meet my needs. The most AT&T can offer is 1.5 Mbps DSL service, an inferior service I would need extra wiring in my house to even receive.

Why is that important? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Major ISPs have a near-monopoly in areas they service. I challenge anyone to shout out and name the area they live in where Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, Cox, or Charter are competing with each other. I bet you can’t.

Truth is, no one can. Those major ISPs have agreed to stay out of each other’s territory. Comcast has such an agreement with Charter in wireless; Verizon is actively trying to minimize competition from Comcast and Charter. With such collusion among the ISPs, who is to say the consumer – all of us – will get the best deal possible?

Frankly, we won’t. At the end of the day, the repeal of net neutrality means that average consumers like us will consistently get the short shrift. If Comcast wants, they’ll charge me an extra $20 for using YouTube and Netflix. They may want to tack on an extra $20 because I use Crunchyroll. Since Disney is buying Fox’s entertainment assets out, maybe I won’t get charged extra for Hulu. That service, after all, will be majority owned by Disney. Who will want to cross Disney?

But a close friend of mine subscribes to PureFlix, the Netflix of Christian movies. What about her? Will she be charged extra for her access to that streaming service?

Unfortunately, no one knows. Verizon started this mess, and they surely have tried to exploit this mess to their advantage. As I said earlier, Comcast had milked me as much as they can. And both ISPs have just been given the OK by the FCC to try to milk even more.

Why is that important? Well, I’m glad you asked.

As consumers, we have the ability to fight back. FCC Chairperson Ajit Pai wanted to repeal net neutrality and has won the battle at the FCC. But he hasn’t won the war. The consumer still has the ability to affect the decision the FCC decided. And said consumer has the backing of the very same content providers affected by the decision.

The Attorney General of New York has already announced a multi-state lawsuit challenging the veracity of repealing net neutrality. The Attorney General of Washington has joined him in filing a legal challenge against the repeal of net neutrality. Judging by the reactions of others in the tech sphere, the resentment is not limited to the legal space.

Better yet, we can affect the ruling. For 60 days after the ruling, Congress can issue a resolution that disapproves of the ruling and overrules it. It’s part of the Congressional Review Act, which has oversight over any rulings by a Federal agency. That means that Congress can overturn the FCC’s ruling on net neutrality. But only for 60 days.

That means the onus is on us. We can contact our senators and representatives to voice our concerns. If we make our voices heard, we can sway Congress towards our side. If we do it within the next 60 days, we may be able to overturn the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality.

I don’t like to lean on any political spectrum. Life is hard enough as it is without getting into fights over political affiliation. But I am at the whims of Comcast as it is. I already have to pay them an extra $30 a month just because I use their pipes more than 90% of people who use their service in my area. With net neutrality rules rescinded, what’s to stop them from charging me more because I don’t subscribe to their services? What’s to stop them from charging me even more for being a gamer? What’s to stop them from nickel-and-dime me more?

I hate being political. We have enough troubles in the United States as it is. But there is a common desire to allow unfettered access to the internet.

Why is that important? I’m glad you asked.

If your ISP metered your access to the internet, you wouldn’t be able to yell at me for being wrong. Not unless you paid them extra for the ability to do so. That’s not political; that’s just real.

He has been playing video games for longer than he would like to admit, and is passionate about all retro games and systems. He also goes to bars with an NES controller hoping that entering the Konami code will give him thirty chances with the drunk chick at the bar. His interests include vodka, old-school games, women, vodka, and women gamers who drink vodka.

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