By Nick Westergaard
This Thursday, Dec. 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to force a vote to end net neutrality. I’ll bet I’m not the first person to warn you about this. But I’ll also bet that you don’t entirely understand what all of this really means.
Simply put, the internet which we all know, love, and mostly trust — the internet that you’re reading this upon — is about to change forever. This is a big deal and it’s getting lost in the shuffle of hurried tax plans and frightening foreign policy. Of all of the cruel and unusual legislation that the current administration has imposed, this could be the most significant.
While it could seem like one small piece of regulation, it’s a key thread that, if pulled, could lead to an unraveling of dire consequences. That’s because ending net neutrality changes our ability to access information at a time when we need access to information more than ever.
What Is Net Neutrality?
As someone who works in branding and communication, I’m the first to tell you that net neutrality has a branding and communication problem. It’s a vague, confusing name given to something very important. I’m going to try to explain this as simply as possible.
Net neutrality is a principle that’s come to describe a set of Obama-era rules enacted in 2015 that govern the internet. Basically, net neutrality means that internet service providers, or ISPs, have to treat all of the data online the same. Providers can’t charge more for different types of data or specific websites or apps. They also can’t create a fast-lane or slow-lane for connectivity.
Everyone with internet access has the same ability to see and do everything online that everyone else can. It’s been the law of the land supporting rapid shifts in our cultural and political zeitgeist. It’s also a lynchpin to the new world of the workplace, as many depend on the internet to connect with customers, provide services and grow virtual work teams.
Now boasting a Republican majority, the appointed (not elected) FCC is poised to end net neutrality. But what does a world without net neutrality look like?
Why This Is Bad
Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California invites us to look to Portugal. Though governed by the European Union’s net-neutrality rules, because of various loopholes, Portugal has an online ecosystem similar to what the U.S. could look like very soon. As a result, providers have split the internet into packages. You start with a base plan and then add additional plans that support activities you like such as messaging, video, email, cloud computing and more. Instead of paying one fee for online access, you potentially pay several a la carte fees for the services you need.
In a recent op ed distributed to various regional business journals (including our own Corridor Business Journal), Jordan Crenshaw, assistant counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells us to relax. It won’t be that bad. His reasoning? We can use the pre-2015 internet as a model.
Um, no we can’t. The internet changes constantly. For example, Cisco tells us that by 2019, 80 percent of the content online will be video. Guess what takes up more bandwidth online? Streaming video! What might ISPs want to charge you more for? Video! And what about the role this plays in competition. If apps like Netflix come packed with every online video plan, this could create monopolies and stifle new business growth.
Beyond being bad for consumers, ending net neutrality is also bad for business (unless you’re a provider). Many malign net neutrality as turning the internet into another public utility. The truth is that innovations of all shapes and sizes — from railroads to Silicon Valley — have been built on the foundation of public utilities and federal investments. We need a free and open internet to continue to innovate and grow.
What You Can Do
Angry? Want to do something? Contact the FCC! Contacting a government agency should be easy right? Wrong! Of course it’s a clumsy, bureaucratic process. Thank God for comedy! Comedians like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers are doing an amazing service by both informing and entertaining. HBO’s John Oliver took it a step further by creating a shortcut that helps you file an online complaint with the FCC in just one minute.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Go to gofccyourself.com.
- Click on the 17-108 link (Restoring Internet Freedom).
- Click on “+ Express” (on the left-hand side, at the bottom of the grey Docket 17-108 box, which is right under the word “Filters”— it’s next to the link that says “+ New Filing”).
- Be sure to hit “ENTER” after you put in your name and info so it registers! Then type in your address and the remaining info.
- In the comment section write, “I strongly support net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISPs.”
- Click to review, then click submit, done. Make sure you hit submit at the end!
Isn’t this just political? Net neutrality came into being on the watch of a Democratic president. It could end on Thursday as a result of a Republican controlled commission. It’s easy to miscategorize this as a partisan issue, however, it’s anything but. It’s about access to information and communication. It’s about the free spreading of ideas that’s at the very heart of our democracy.
The internet helps us connect with people, build and grow businesses, and bring about social and political change. We need access to this tool now more than ever before. Ironically, it’s time to use the internet to save the internet. If you care about reading information like this online, take a minute and help preserve net neutrality before it’s too late.
Nick Westergaard is the author of ‘Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small,’ Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital and an educator at the University of Iowa.