Net Neutrality

In wake of net neutrality’s repeal, internet service providers will be able to restrict access to certain websites. Internet users could get varying degrees of access and quality based on pay. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Polansky)

Take a moment to imagine an internet divided — our once free-roam domain carved up by varying net speed, arbitrary paywalls, and a slew of restricted websites. This is the possible future for our beloved internet if it is to be stripped of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. This single principle has guaranteed a universal and equal right to high speed internet and unrestricted content. It has been the way of our internet since the dawn of its existence, but was only officially instituted in 2016 under the Obama Administration.

Yet, some lobby for its abolition.

The vote was held on December 14, and most saw net neutrality’s repeal as inevitable due to the FCC’s Republican majority. Conservative Republicans– in general– favor industry. This repeal was a major win for the internet service provider industry, and by extension, a win for big money republicans.

Earlier in the year, the Trump Administration appointed Ajit Pai as the Chairman of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission)–the government organization that oversees the internet. Pai has been working for the FCC since 2012, but he worked previously as a lawyer for the massive internet service provider, Verizon.

Despite widespread public backlash, Pai seeks to dismantle basic consumer protections on the internet; including both net neutrality and consumer privacy protections. Since the FCC’s announcement that this plan would move forward, more than 20 million comments have flooded the agency condemning it and Pai alike.

Many major internet service providers– headed by AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon– have mounted a massive assault on these protections and the very concept of net neutrality. The lobbyists of these internet tycoons have descended in droves upon Washington D.C., and Pai is certainly hearing their views.

Speculation has run high that Pai is still in league with his ex-employer, Verizon, and seeks to gain profit from the repeal of net neutrality. Pai has argued that it is the net neutrality regulation that is preventing internet service providers from making money to fund new infrastructure, though the internet service providers themselves have been relatively silent on that matter, leaving Pai with little support on that front.

Another issue in Pai’s campaign to restrict net neutrality is not simply his utter lack of support, but the scandal surrounding fabricated comments to repeal net neutrality. An investigation carried out by data scientist Jeff Kao states that the FCC received at least 1.3 million phony pro-repeal comments. Upon analysis, it was revealed that these comments were suspiciously similar right down to their tone and meaning.

What’s more unsettling is the speculation as to who could be behind these falsified comments. “We received over 400,000 pro-internet regulation comments from the same mailing address in Russia,” read a statement regarding Kao’s report from FCC representative Brian Hart shared with Futurism via email.

Though it’s unclear if the comments legitimately came from Russian citizens or from non-Russians attempting to cover their tracks, tensions regarding this issue have certainly run high. Especially so being that this incident coincides with Bob Mueller’s special investigation of the Trump Administration regarding collusion with Russia. Despite there being no evidence to suggest so, the seeds of suspicion have been sewn against Ajit Pai–who himself is a Trump Administration appointee.

“In an era where foreign governments have indisputably tried to use the internet and social media to influence our elections, federal and state governments should be working together to ensure that malevolent actors cannot subvert our administrative agencies’ decision-making processes,” said Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General in an open letter to the FCC.

However, not only anti-net neutrality comments have been fabricated Under further investigation it was revealed that of the 22 million comments the FCC received regarding the net neutrality repeal, only about 800,000 are considered “unique” (from an individual sender and having content different than that of other comment). This means that only between three and four percent of comments the FCC received were considered “legitimate” and among those legitimate comments, a resounding 99% were for net neutrality.

In the interest of providing the public with as much information as possible, the FCC will not purge these false comments from their record– though the agency claims it is impossible for them to examine each comment individually.

The major concern of net neutrality supporters is the potential restriction on free speech and creativity. They fear that America’s flow of information would be slammed to a screeching halt and jettison the nation out of the age of information. Vint Cerf (the creator of the World Wide Web) and Steve Wozniak (co-creator of Apple) are of this belief and are leading the charge against Pai and his repeal.

In wake of the FCC vote in favor of repealing net neutrality, all sides eagerly await the subsequent “battle for the net” that will inevitably follow in wake of the decision. Both sides prepare for war as all eyes turn to Washington D.C. and wait to see Congress’s move in response to this historic altercation of our internet.

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