Tomorrow morning, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US is set to scrap Net Neutrality. Specifically, they plan to eliminate Title II protections that force the courts to treat internet access as an essential service.

John Oliver explains this distinction more in depth (if you haven’t seen this segment, you really should, even if you know about Title II):

In a nutshell, without this classification, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be free to restrict or slow down access to sites that cannot afford or refuse to pay a fee to be in the fast lane. They could also start bundling sites together the same way cable companies bundle stations and charge extra for packages.

The Nightmare Scenario

My guess is they would probably bring in a mix of the two.

First, imagine basic internet including major email providers and maybe the weather network and a few search engines. You could then add the Social Media package with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for an extra fee, the news package with only mainstream sources for another fee. YouTube would cost extra and if you want Netflix, well you’d have to pay extra for it, above and beyond what you pay (or what your roommate, friend or ex pays, let’s be honest) to Netflix.

Don’t think this is possible? Look at this add for mobile internet packages in Portugal:

Meanwhile, smaller competitors, some widely used and relied on but not popular or potentially profitable enough to be automatically included in a package would take forever to load. If Verizon or Comcast can’t make an extra buck off them, why would they make it easy to access them?

While sites with primarily written content that use embeds for video and audio (like this one) may end up coasting underneath the throttling radar, others won’t. What about BandCamp? Vimeo? Crowdfunding sites? Gaming sites? How about sites that don’t use a lot of bandwidth but really irk the ISPs because of their content?

While the FCC is billing this as “Internet Freedom” it’s actually about letting a handful of companies restrict the freedom of everyone else. I have no problem with websites charging for their services or opting not to, they are already free to do that online. ISPs, on the other hand, should not be.

They don’t own the internet, we all do. Or no one does.

Yes, the ISPs may own the cables, but that only permits them to charge a rate for use of said cables. They have absolutely no business telling us what we can and can’t use the cables to access. No one tells you what you can and can’t say on a phonecall, the Internet should be no different.

Beyond the USA

While this may seem like an American problem, but it’s actually a global one as the internet is a global entity and America is a huge part of it. The biggest sites are American and so are most of the largest indie sites and non-profit sites.

Not only that, there are quite a few people that rely on or at least need some American eyes and ears for their livelihood: independent musicians, app and game developers, the list goes on. While their internet access may not be limited, their potential audience and clientele will be.

Meanwhile, the free flow of information and independent journalism could be seriously compromised, with stories about protest in the US not covered, or not properly covered by mainstream press not making it past someone’s computer or phone, let alone around the world. Likewise, smaller stories could have a hard time finding their way to interested people in the 50 states.

Then there’s the whole issue of American influence. Portugal may not set the global standard when it comes to the Internet, but the US does.

Here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have said he supports a free and open internet and is “very concerned” about the FCC’s attempt to roll that back in the States, but how long will that stance last? You can bet that Canadian ISPs are just itching to do what their American counterparts may be able to do very soon and will use what happens south of the border to influence lawmakers here.

So What Do We Do?

The first thing we can do is fight like hell to make sure these changes don’t pass, and by we I don’t mean me, at least not directly. Americans (those reading this and others) are the only ones who can contact their elected officials and the FCC to fight this at the source. There is also an online campaign to oppose the FCC’s intentions called Break the Internet.

If they aren’t successful, there’s the legal avenue, though that takes time, probably more time than it takes for ISPs to start changing the Internet forever. There’s also hoping someone (ie Elon Musk) decides to offer unobstructed access (he already wants to offer the world access through satellites) and thus make it unfeasible for ISPs to offer anything but the net as we know it even if they are no longer legally obliged to.

Hoping for a capitalist benefactor/Bond villain to save us all may only lead to disappointment. People outside of the US fighting hard to preserve Net Neutrality and those in the States fighting hard to bring it back (or creating some sort of pirate ISP) may be the only way to fight and win.

But if we do win eventually, or even if the ISPs lose tomorrow in the US (or in the near future), we need to talk about how to prevent this from happening again, because you know it will. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about a threat to Net Neutrality and it certainly won’t be the last.

Maybe it’s time to look to more radical solutions to preserve what we have and have had for years. Maybe it’s time to nationalize ISPs. At least, the very threat of such an action would scare the corporations who currently control access to the web to forever shut up about changing the rules. At best, we could end up with an internet that could never be changed.

For now, though, let’s hope that the FCC sees the light, or moreover, is forced to see it.

* Featured image: Backbone Campaign via Flickr Creative Commons

Net Neutrality, the principle that all content online should be equally accessible, is under attack…again. This time around, the Federal Communications Commission in the US is poised to allow an internet “fast lane” for sites that pay for premium carriage (things in Canada, btw, aren’t much better).

John Oliver has something to say about this. On his new HBO show Last Week Tonight (think Oliver hosting The Daily Show but with uncensored swearing and occasional nudity), Oliver not only dug into the reasons behind the FCC’s new stance, but also why so many are apathetic about it. He concluded with a very unique callout.

Enjoy! And after watching, the site he mentions is

If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying until someone screws up and your opponents are tired from fighting you and winning. Net Neutrality, the principle that Internet Service Providers must offer their customers all content available online evenly and fairly, is at risk again.

In the US, the FCC really dropped the ball and lost in court and in Canada things aren’t much better.

I hope you take the time to read up on the details through those links, but if you’re wondering why you should care, here are ten ways the internet and the world may be different if Net Neutrality disappears (and this, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg):

There’s an old saying that everyone has a price and it now looks like Verizon has found Google’s.   The two companies have released a joint proposal that many in the US, Canada and around the world argue would end the principle of Net Neutrality and the internet as we know it by leaving the door open for a corporate takeover of content.

In a nutshell, their legislative framework proposal starts off by sounding like it supports a free internet, stating that service providers can’t discriminate against any legal internet content, must offer consumers the ability to connect to any legal content, devices or applications they wish and must be transparent to their customers about the service they are offering.   Then, it does an about-face and says that only the transparency principle applies when it comes to wireless broadband “because of the unique technical and operational characteristics of wireless networks and the competitive and still-developing nature” of the medium.

Leaving the door open to any type of service provider discrimination, no matter how limited it may be, allows for a two-tiered internet to emerge.   If there’s a corporate-controlled fast lane and a public-access slow lane, then the internet would be no better than cable TV in terms of accessibility to smaller content producers with limited budgets.

Or, in other words, the dream would be over.

Net Neutrality ensures that people can access content from all providers equally, provided the specifics used to display it are similar.   A high-def Flash video you uploaded of your dog walking around should play at the same speed as one from CNN, one from indie site Democracy Now or independently produced entertainment using the same format.

All media is eventually moving online: TV, radio, newspapers, you name it and some of it sooner rather than later.   When it gets there, if the landscape is a two-tiered one, then not much changes overall for our media except the means of delivery, but if it is one operating on the principles of real Net Neutrality, then paying extra for better distribution is not an option.

Major corporate media will have to compete equally with independent content.   If independent producers can produce good enough content to compete, then it will be the best ideas that win out and opinions blocked by corporate media will reach a wider audience.     In effect, this will end the stranglehold corporations and their backers currently have on our public communications.   That is an attainable revolution and one that very well may change the world.

No discrimination here: Google search results

So why doesn’t Google want to be a part of it?   Rather, why don’t they want to be a part of it anymore?   For the past five years, they’ve fought very publicly for Net Neutrality.   They’re also the kind of company that seems all about freedom of expression and against anyone but the user deciding what can be seen.   They went head to head with China over censorship and articles and sites criticizing them, if tagged properly, show up readily in their searches (in fact, Google was a particularly handy tool in researching criticism of them for this article) and even though they seem to want to catalog (and control) the world, they’ve promised to not be evil.

Well, one reason may be that they’d end up in the top tier.   That would mean that you’d still be able to upload your video to (Google-owned) YouTube and it would still play at a normal speed, but it also means that your video would have to conform to their policies such as being under 10 minutes and not getting flagged.

Is this the future of Google, or can it be changed? (image: NewsReel Blog)

As a huge company, Google is frequently the target of lawsuits and as such they’re a little more trigger happy than some other, smaller companies to remove content that has been flagged.   Just ask anyone who has had a video removed from YouTube for no good reason and they’ll tell you that having a choice of other sites to post on is very needed.

If Google and YouTube make it to the top tier, will sites like Vimeo and Dailymotion make it as well or will content on those sites be part of the slow lane?   If it’s the latter, then freedom of expression will most certainly be limited.

Whether it’s a monopoly or not, any small gains for Google now are drastically outweighed by the loss of the potentially revolutionary future of the internet.   We can only hope that Google gets back on the Net Neutrality bandwagon and on the right side of history.