Net Neutrality and America’s Censorship Through the Backdoor

Net Neutrality and America’s Censorship Through the Backdoor

In one of those rare moments in history, grassroots activists and Silicon Valley are on the same side of an issue: net neutrality must be saved at all costs. For Silicon Valley businesses such as Netflix, there is clearly an economic incentive for preserving net neutrality. Netflix and its Silicon Valley brethren do not want to have to pay for the internet “fast lanes” that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing.

Earlier this year, Netflix customers noticed something odd. Videos were taking forever to load. Soon, the real reason was revealed. Reportedly, Netflix and Comcast (an American internet service provider) were in a very ugly dispute. The CEO of Cogent accused Comcast of slowing down Netflix’s video streaming service. Eventually, Netflix and Comcast reached a multi-year interconnection deal in which Netflix would pay to be more directly connected to Comcast in order to improve video streaming speeds. Comedian, John Oliver, likened Comcast’s behavior to an old school mafia shakedown.

Even though it is not clear whether the proposed regulations on internet “fast lanes” would affect interconnection deals such as the agreement between Comcast and Netflix, business deals like this raise serious concerns about the future of net neutrality.

It is not hard to make villains out of the cable companies (ISPs), especially when they are so notorious for poor service. This year, Americans voted Comcast as the “Worst Company in America” on a poll conducted by Consumerist.com.

http://youtu.be/wtt2aSV8wdw

Several months ago, my internet service went down for a day. This happens at least several times a year when the internet just randomly turns off for no apparent reason. After my internet service came back online, I conducted an internet speed test which showed I was only getting half the download and upload speed I was paying for. I called up my internet service provider, Verizon. The Verizon employee said that the internet speeds I was quoted were actually the highest speeds I could expect. He also added that there was no minimum upload and download speed, so my service would actually get worse. This excuse was completely bogus. The Verizon employee then added that I would have to “upgrade” to more expensive internet service that I did not even need. I asked him why should I bother upgrading if Verizon would not even provide the services I already paid for.

After several minutes of talking with the Verizon employee, I was becoming frustrated. I gave him an ultimatum: either Verizon was going to give me the internet speed I already paid for, or I was going to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Verizon employee quickly changed his tune and said that my internet speeds should improve in the next couple hours. He also begged, “Please don’t file a complaint.” It is not just Netflix at risk of cable companies’ mafia-style shakedowns; cable companies also routinely shakedown their own customers.

The US government is spending millions of dollars every year for internet censorship circumvention software and services for people in countries like Iran and China. It is hypocritical for the US government to claim to support internet freedom abroad while it considers implementing internet censorship here at home. The FCC’s proposed internet “fast lanes” could further allow cable companies to monopolize the internet and control what data flows across their networks. People unable to afford the internet “fast lanes” could be relegated back to the dial-up speed era or censored by the spinning wheel of death. It also opens up a Pandora’s box that could eventually allow cable companies to slow down the services of their competitors or any content the cable companies do not like.

Net neutrality is not just an American issue: it is a global issue. A considerable amount of the world’s internet traffic still flows through the United States. Regulations for internet “fast lanes” could potentially give American cable companies the ability to extort money from companies around the world whose internet traffic flows through the United States. If the FCC approves regulations allowing for internet “fast lanes”, governments around the world should seriously consider filing a WTO (World Trade Organization) complaint against the US government.

In the meantime, anyone around the world can submit a public reply comment to the FCC’s proposed internet “fast lanes” and the FCC’s plot to kill net neutrality. You can email the FCC your comments by clicking the link here or emailing openinternet@fcc.gov until September 15, 2014. Any comment you submit is a public record.

 

graph showing the FCC's phone call response

FCC’s phone call response rate CC BY-NC-SA Demand Progress

The FCC will also be holding a series of roundtable discussions about the proposed “open internet” regulations (also known as destroying net neutrality). I strongly encourage anyone in the Washington, DC area to attend. Anyone around the world can submit questions for the roundtables by emailing roundtables@fcc.gov before the roundtable and using the hashtag #FCCRoundTables on Twitter. The roundtables are listed on http://www.fcc.gov/events/ list and can be watched live online at http://www.fcc.gov/live. Archived videos can be found on the individual event pages.

Organizations such as the ACLU and EFF are urging the FCC to hold hearings across the United States, not just the Washington, DC area. You can sign ACLU’s petition at this link.

The FCC Commissioners’ email and twitter accounts are:
Chairman Tom Wheeler: Tom.Wheeler@fcc.gov @TomWheelerFCC
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn: Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov @MClyburnFCC
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov @JRosenworcel
Commissioner Ajit Pai: Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov @AjitPaiFCC
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly: Mike.O’Rielly@fcc.gov @mikeofcc

As the FFC”s servers are often overloaded at the moment an alternate way to send an email is
through the EFF page dearfcc.org

If you have any questions, the FCC also has toll-free telephone and fax numbers:
Telephone 1-888-CALL FCC (1-888-225-5322)
Fax 1-866-418-0232

Note: FaxZero.com provides up to 5 free faxes a day.

You can also contact your member of Congress and urge them to pass legislation to protect net neutrality.
Senate http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
House of Representatives http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Popular Twitter hashtags currently being used are:
#NetNeutrality
#BattlefortheNet
#TeamInternet
#InternetSlowdown
#FCCRoundTables

Guest post by Rachael Tackett

Bio – Rachael Tackett is a digital native. She is an advocate for transparency in government and the Freedom of Information Act. She tweets at @ractack.

 

Featured Image: CC BY-SA Free Press

This article has been edited – missing links inserted 12 September 2014

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