Will May 18th be the end of net neutrality in the US?

Maximilian Holm, about Online Privacy

A new vote in the could spell the death of net neutrality as we know it in the U.S. If passed, it means that internet service providers in the US can dictate their own terms and potentially decide what content their customers can access, and when they can access it.

net neutrality lost

We previously wrote about how a new US senate bill would allow ISP's to sell your data. Unfortunately, it seems we were right in our fears that it would only be the first of many such blows against net neutrality. On May 18th, Ajit Pai — Trump's new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman — will present a proposal to overturn the 2015 Net Neutrality order. If the proposal passes, it is a huge setback for net neutrality. This is something that many Internet Service Providers have longed for, and have spent hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars on.

Unfortunately, it is very likely that the proposal will pass. Ajit Pai is a former Verizon lawyer and has expressed that he considers net neutrality to be a threat to not only ISP:s, but also to customers. To understand how the vote on May 18th will affect internet service providers and their customers, we have to first take a look at what the original ruling in 2015 did.

Want to keep your data safe from your ISP? Try OVPN.

The Open Internet Order of 2015 set some clear and strict rules prohibiting website and app blocking, speed throttling, and the use of fast lanes. With the new rules in place, an ISP is not allowed to block certain phone applications that may compete with their own offers. More importantly, it also reclassified Internet Service Providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This prohibits the use of fast lanes, and without it, internet providers would be allowed to charge various content providers such as Youtube extra to deliver data to customers. For example, without any such rules, Comcast (who also owns xFinity) might slow (or even block) data to other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that may compete with their own services. The result is that ISPs would dictate what content their customers can access, and when they can access it. The results would not only be devastating to customers but to content providers as well, who might find a drastic reduction in their customer base. In addition, it would make it a lot harder for new content providers to get new customers, as they may not be able to afford to pay the fees internet providers charge to route data to their customers.

It is more than just a theoretical possibility, it happened back in 2014 when Netflix made a deal with Comcast after they were accused of deliberately throttling traffic to Netflix. Freepress has compiled a list of other such violations to show just how common such practices were before the 2015 Net Neutrality order.

“We cannot have a two-tiered internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind” - Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner

The important thing here to notice is that Internet Service Providers (and by extension, Mobile Internet Providers) will no longer fall under Title II if the vote pass. That means that the FCC will no longer be the federal body in charge of ISP regulations. In fact, Ajit Pai has stated that he's not sure which government body will be responsible for ISP regulations. At first, however, they would likely return to the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

If the law passes, we would like to stress that it does not affect OVPN. You would still be able to safely browse the web without your ISP spying on what you do, or dictating what you can watch, and when you can watch it. If you don't already have an account, you can try OVPN with our 10 day money-back-guarantee and experience a more free internet without your ISP logging everything you do.

Interestingly, Netflix and RIOT Games recently filed a lawsuit against the Charter spectrum (Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, the last two of which were purchased in 2016) over fraud. In the lawsuit, they claim that not only did Spectrum-TWC defraud money from millions of customers between the period of 2012 to now by intentionally providing them with a service and hardware that would not achieve the speeds they paid for, they also actively deceived the FCC, as well as creating bottlenecks for content providers such as RIOT Games and Netflix — only to then hold their services ransom in exchange for extra money.

“When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world companies can’t operate without the internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?” - Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of World Wide Web.

With Internet Service Providers actively defrauding customers, deceiving government bodies and holding content providers ransom, are they really to be trusted when they claim that removing net neutrality is in our best interest as customers? They have, time and time again, sought out any method to further increase their profits — even at the cost of customer privacy and integrity — with little to no regard for consequences.

While vote with your wallet is a very noble concept, not everyone may have multiple providers to choose between and are thus forced to choose between paying for the one service they're offered, or remain without internet connectivity. In modern society, the last option is barely even an option and is more akin to an ultimatum.

And so, we are left to wonder: If large ISP:s actively break the law with the existing regulations in place, why should we trust that they would stop defrauding customers with even less regulations in place? If we have learned anything, it's that history often repeat itself.

If you live in the U.S, we urge you to visit and make your opinion heard. There are only a few days left. Every voice matters, don't let yours be silent.

Maximilian Holm