As expected, net neutrality is on its way to the slaughterhouse. In a letter, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced that he would gut net neutrality in favor of big internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon.
This had always been Pai's, a former Verizon attorney, plan. Backed by President Donald Trump and FCC appointees and former telecom lobbyists Jeffrey Eisenach and Mark Jamison, the FCC ignored the wishes of both consumers and major internet companies to kill off net neutrality rules.
Pai, in pure 1984 NewSpeak, wrote, "Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet." Whatever the government has been doing with the internet, I know no one who would use the word "micromanage" with a straight face.
"Instead," Pai continued, "the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that's best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate."
What does that mean? We don't know. But we have a pretty good idea.
It boils down to this: Internet service providers (ISP) will block and slow down some sites while speeding up access to the ones that pay them off. If an ISP lies to a customer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), not the FCC, will have to slap them down. Other than that, ISPs will call the shots.
Pai won't reveal any fine details about this until his proposal is voted on in the FCC's Dec. 14 meeting. With three of the commission's five seats under GOP control, it will pass.
We already know what ISPs will do. AT&T, for example, won't charge you for your data if you watch DirecTV Now. If you'd rather watch Sling TV or PlayStation Vue, you'll pay for every megabyte of video. This is called zero rating. You can expect more of this in the post-net neutrality world.
You can also expect some of your favorite websites and services to slow down. For example, Verizon deliberately slowed Netflix traffic before the FCC slapped its wrist in 2014. Soon, Verizon can tell Netflix that it can either pay for speed or face a slowdown. Either way, consumers lose.
The Internet Association, a lobbying group for Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other web powers, warned the FCC in July that, "In a world without net neutrality protections, startups would face discrimination from ISP owned or preferred content that's granted a speed advantage through paid prioritization. This would hurt competition and consumer choice."
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) agreed:
This is a direct assault on the fundamental digital rights of Americans. In repealing these net neutrality protections, Chairman Pai is providing ISPs with an explicit license to block, slow, or levy tolls on content, creating barriers to innovation and the spread of new ideas. It will allow ISPs to leverage their monopoly at the expense of consumers and internet-based businesses. The result will be a more limited and expensive experience for all internet users and a more arduous and costly development process for small businesses.
You can also kiss your internet privacy good-bye. The FCC's privacy rules would have required ISPs to get your permission before using, sharing, and -- oh yes -- selling your web browsing and internet service usage records. To quote the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), when it pleaded with Congress to defend your internet privacy:
Instead of moving forward to safeguard consumers, the FCC is moving backwards, leaving users of new communications services exposed to unprecedented levels of identity theft, financial fraud, and security breaches.
But, no matter. To quote former Democratic FCC chairman Tom Wheeler from a Washington Post interview, "The job of the FCC is to represent the consumer... If you like your cable company, you'll love what this does for the internet, because it gives internet service providers the same kind of control over content and price as cable operators have today."
The bottom line: You can protest, but you can kiss net neutrality good-bye. The FCC will ignore you in its hellbent drive to kill off net neutrality, increase big internet's profits, and push your internet and net services bill ever higher.