For the uninitiated, these practices are called zero-rating, data discrimination or prioritization, and fast lanes—and you’ll absolutely see them in a post-net neutrality internet. AT&T is already purchasing Time Warner for the not-so-inconsequential sum of $85.4 billion, and it’s not a coincidence. AT&T aspires to own the network and content delivered over it, and compete with the likes of Netflix and other streaming services; thus, the zero-rating of their own DirectTV Now content (AT&T acquired DirectTV in 2015). Rolling back net neutrality rules only helps big internet’s profits, rescinds any thread of privacy users are afforded, and allows ISPs to govern—and monetize—user data and points of connection.
The Trump era FCC—and particularly commission chairman Ajit Pai—have had excrement drooling from their chins at the thought of gutting net naturality and annulling the Title II classification of internet providers. As of today, Ajit Pai announced that next month that they will do just that—despite the 22 million comments the FCC received over the summer indicating the majority of people want internet protections. This is also despite both the Internet Association and Center for Democracy and Technology, both warning about the perils of a world without net neutrality protections. If the FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal next month, there is no reason it won’t pass; Pai wouldn’t have put it up for vote if he had reason for doubt, and the current FCC is made up of a GOP majority, whom have been skeptical of Obama-era internet rules and attempting to narrow them since taking over.
The open internet advocates and defenders will certainly challenge it, and congress could intervene under the Administrative Procedure Act if they deem it a “capricious” decision. Time will tell what effect any of this will have, and if you aren’t concerned—you should be. Ajit Pai and the FCC are framing their proposal as stopping the federal government from “micromanaging” the internet, and pushing towards internet freedom, but it demonstrably does the opposite. The FCC’s plan outlines intentions to give the keys of the internet to a few humongous players, lessening both civil and digital rights, and perpetrating an immeasurable disservice to democracy. The FCC acts under the guise of closing the digital divide, in hopes that bigger profits and new ways to monetize the internet will elicit an initiative to build out networks to underserved or previously non-profitable areas. Bear in mind, however, that the internet they receive could be drastically different than today’s.
- Eric Hamilton