Wake Up, Internet. Time to Save Yourself.
This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
What if you had only three weeks before the Internet you know and love was about to disappear?
Would you spend your time binging on listicles or the final season of Breaking Bad? Or would you do something about it?
Would you email all your friends with the news? Blast your social media networks? Demand that Congress and the president keep this amazing invention from going away?
If the Internet had only three weeks left, would you take to the streets and raise hell?
I bet you would.
And here’s your chance to prove it: Because three weeks from today the Internet as we know it may not disappear, but it could be a lot closer to the precipice.
On May 15, the Federal Communications Commission will propose a new set of rules that are supposed to stop big phone and cable companies from blocking websites or discriminating against apps and services they don’t like. Only as written the rules would do pretty much the opposite.
According to numerous sources, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal would allow Internet service providers like Verizon or Time Warner Cable to charge extra fees to content companies like Google and Netflix for preferential treatment, guaranteeing their content reaches end-users ahead of those that don’t pay.
In other words: Goodbye, open Internet. Hello, payola Schminternet.
Of course, big Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast love the idea of a pay-to-prioritize Internet. Instead of having to invest in upgrading their networks or responding to their customers’ needs, they can profit from unnecessary congestion and artificial scarcity. Think about it: No one will pay for a spot in the express lane unless the main road is always jammed up.
Such pay-for-priority schemes would be a disaster for startups, nonprofits, independent content creators and everyday Internet users who wouldn’t be able to pay these unnecessary tolls. And the stifling of future competitors and disruptive innovators would be a fringe benefit for the big ISPs as they line their pockets. The FCC proposal would even allow ISPs to favor their own content over all others.
This is not what Net Neutrality looks like. It’s what the end of Net Neutrality looks like.
The FCC’s latest botched attempt to make rules for the open Internet is the result of a federal court decision earlier this year. That ruling threw out the FCC’s existing open Internet rules and sent the agency back to the drawing board. Wheeler insists the new rules “will restore the concepts of Net Neutrality consistent with the court’s ruling in January.”
But contrary to Wheeler’s claims, the court didn’t force the FCC to choose this path. After the ruling, the FCC had a chance to reverse its failures and pursue real Net Neutrality. Instead, in a moment of extreme shortsightedness, it opened the door to greater discrimination while taking a convoluted, case-by-case approach that likely won’t survive a future legal challenge.
The court clearly told the FCC that if it wishes to ensure Internet users can send and receive information free from ISP interference, then the agency must classify ISPs as telecom carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.
While reclassifying broadband wouldn’t be easy politically given the clout of the big cable and phone companies (the same companies Wheeler used to lobby for, by the way), it would put the agency on much stronger legal footing. It’s also the right thing to do — really, the only thing to do — to protect the public and safeguard the Internet’s future.
Wheeler’s draft is not the last word on the issue. He needs at least two more votes on the Commission before he can put the rules out for public comment. And final rules won’t be issued until late summer at the earliest (and likely not until after Election Day).
But now is the time for action. The next three weeks are absolutely crucial to building the public pressure it will take to get the FCC to scrap this wreck and do what it should have done in the first place: reclassify broadband.
So sign a petition and spread the word. Call Tom Wheeler right now and remind him he works for you — and that you won’t settle for anything less than real Net Neutrality.
Start making plans to be in Washington, D.C., on May 15 to stand up for the open Internet. FCC commissioners spend too much time staring at lobbyists: They need to see our faces.
What if you had only three weeks to save the Internet? What would you do?
Whatever it is, you should drop everything and do it right now.