The following is a post from Ryan Eleveld, a contributor at large for the Forest Scout.
So, it happened. The FCC voted to repeal Title II Net Neutrality. The internet’s in chaos and clearly the world is about to end. After all, this is unprecedented, wild new terrain. Their decision was a sweeping act of deregulation supported by only the vilest corporations and we should all be quaking in our boots. The internet is no longer free nor open and we must all brace ourselves for the inevitable fee hikes. It was December 14th, a date that will live in infamy!
But here’s the thing: the sky isn’t falling, we can still use Google, and the Earth is still orbiting the Sun. I can still use the internet, and when I wake up, it will be the exact same tomorrow. So here’s what we have to remember. In times of uncertainty, it is all too easy to lose our heads, to panic and rage, and retreat in fear. Scream up at the sky, vent, be free! Now wait, take a deep breath and look around. Nothing’s changed, has it. In times of uncertainty, we can shout and scream, and sure, it may feel nice, but sometimes we must take a step back a get a little perspective. Or, putting it another way, when we’re looking through a viewfinder, our picture is framed; we can’t see half of what’s around us, yet somehow, we’re insulated. We can look through a lens and stare down a lion. Frightening to be sure, but sometimes all it takes is a look around, a moment of contemplation, and only then may we realize that we are truly safe and sound.
“So, Ryan,” you ask me, “you say we’re safe aren’t we? Well how do you know?” And like any perfect little history student, I’ll look back and reply, “To understand the present we must first understand our past.” Because here’s the thing Net Neutrality isn’t the norm; we’ve only had it for two(ish) years. And so to understand what the future may hold, we look back into the past. As of Dec. 14, 2017, ISPs such as Comcast or AT&T are no longer Title II Common Carriers, which essentially means that they must not discriminate among their customers: if my neighbor and I get the same price for the same internet service, period. But this hasn’t always been the case, after all, Title II classification of ISPs only happened in 2015, and how much as changed since then. Truth be told, you are probably using the exact same internet service as you were since 2010, maybe even earlier. Netflix hasn’t gotten any cheaper on account of Net Neutrality, and we’ve not seen an influx of new websites censored by the big conspiracy of cable companies since then either. Yes, whoever holds Title II Common Carrier classification wields a big sword, but it’s exactly that. Does a big sword have the power to change the world as we know it. The logical answer is yes: it can cut down an enemy or cut down a friend. But the probability is miniscule because we don’t fight with swords anymore; a sword is not the defining weapon of a conflict.
You see, I do have a certain type of omniscience, a little bit of extra knowledge that you might not have dredged up on your recent scanning of the newspaper in the local coffee shop. (Okay… who am I kidding. You Googled it. I get it). This has already happened, all the way back when you and I were but a babe. In the ancient year of 2005 the Bush Administration did exactly what is happening today. Originally, DSL (So…um like AT&T U-Verse for those less technically savvy?) was a Common Carrier because it ran on the same copper phone lines that your normal home phone did (remember that… those were the good old days!). But in 2005 due to the Brand X Supreme Court decision and an increasing push for deregulation, DSL was reclassified as an information service, just as it was today. And while I don’t look at what harm has been done, to a certain extent, that is true. Yes, it did enable greater monopolies, and yes, it probably increased internet prices, but the fact of the matter is, is that here and now and even five years later, the internet was cheaper and faster than it had ever been (in the U.S. [drpeering.net]).
So, now, let us turn our eyes to the future. You will go to sleep tonight and nothing will change. I mean, yes, the order likely doesn’t even take effect until at least a couple of weeks, but you understand the point. To a certain extent, Title II is scary not because of what it does do, but
what it could do. So much of what we do is connected to the internet, and at the merest sign of a threat we spring up in anger. But there’s a lot more to this equation than just the FCC. The FCC generally maintains responsibility for enforcing the regulations they make, and the fact of the matter is, AT&T, Comcast, all probably could have been engaging in prohibited practices and nothing would have happened! Enough of this though, and let us focus. The most likely effect of this isn’t going to affect you directly; there’s a reason why Google and Netflix support Net Neutrality: they’re afraid they’ll be extorted for internet “fast lanes.” But here’s the thing, you likely already bear the burden of that cost. As it stands right now, Google and Netflix already have deals with cable providers where they can transfer petabytes (well actually larger) of data per second. They have to overpurchase bandwidth (magic internet speed) just to insure that you have a good experience, and that your data doesn’t get lost. Fast lanes might even allow them to purchase less bandwidth and save money…And they have attorneys, and they aren’t afraid of taking legal action, and they certainly won’t be extorted.
Take a deep breath, breathe and realize this. If you have to start paying to watch Instagram Live videos, or to check your SnapChat, or Periscope your latest escapade, it’s because these companies want your money and are willing to take advantage of you! No one uses SnapChat except on their cell phone, and that’s your data limit; it ain’t even protected by Net Neutrality, and it never was. Verizon already litigated that a long time ago… No, Google, and Facebook, and Netflix aren’t going anywhere. A year out, and likely we’ll look back and say, wow, we were right, but boy we were silly. There’s a funny thing called public opinion, and while the FCC is appointed and is clearly not bound by it, cable companies quite frankly are. We saw United’s stock drop after the incident, and even though there’s no other option in many cases, backlash will happen. And your cable company is nowhere near as niche or boutique (as odd as that sounds) as Uber. We are people, and people have power… and we aren’t afraid to use it.
So here we stand, on the cusp of a cliff about to jump, on a ship sailing out into murky, deep uncharted waters. As we move forward the skies blacken and fog begins to obscure our eyes. We scream, cry, shout—recoil—in fear as we blindly clutch the mast and wait for the storm pass, the skies to lighten. The pitching deck feels as if the world has turned upside down, and as we pinch ourselves, we realize that this is reality, that this isn’t a nightmare. But then we wait, and as we do water washes over the deck—a torrent, deluge of the unknown. But all the while we grasp the mast, hold tightly, maintain our future, and in the distance a familiar light begins to shine. Maybe this foreign, violent ocean isn’t so unknown after all. As the clouds clear, and the sky returns to day we realize that we can weather the storm, that the storm ends because the storm must end. As we turn back around, no longer clouded by the storm’s murky confusion, we sail out into the world. That day will come; have faith, that day we hope for must come. And if it becomes an issue we can fight, defend the things we have come to rely upon… and because we’re the U.S., if it comes to it, we can fight a preemptive war. But all kidding aside, take a deep breath, look around, and be thankful that you’re here, that the world’s still spinning, that you have food to eat, a home for shelter, and stylish clothes for the more umm “enlightened” among us to wear. Know that someday that day will come, and ’till then, things are going to be alright. In the meantime, grab your bag of popcorn, sit down on your couch, and cozy up with your friends as you fall asleep to Miracle on 34th Street.