Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Here's What the End of Net Neutrality Will Mean to All of Us

by Nomad

 Net Neutrality

The End of the Internet as We Know It?

In countries like Iran, Russia, and China, open internet access depends very much on the whims of the government. Through a wide variety of laws and administrative regulations, internet access in such countries is strictly limited. Such censorship has undermined the revolutionary promise of virtually-unrestricted openness for all global citizens.

In the West, the openness of the internet has been a source of pride and a benchmark of the kinds of freedom of expression and access to information that can be found only in liberal democracies.
However, soon that source of pride might soon become a source of shame.

On 14 December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will decide the future of open access Internet. That's the day Chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai (along with four other unelected commissioners) will hold a vote whether to scrub regulations established by the Obama administration which safeguarded open access to their networks for all digital content.

According to TechCrunch,
The new rules would give network providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon ... sweeping new power to throttle distribution of certain content… and conversely charge more for better access.
The FCC plan is literally unpopular with everybody except big Internet Service Providers, (ISPs) which, under the proposed changes, will be allowed prioritize data for businesses and other organizations that they favor or that pay more. Everybody will be left in the dust.

For consumers, open access will depend on how much you wish to pay. Critics warn that the future of Internet service will look a lot like the worst aspects of cable TV.
And there's another problem lurking in the wings. Information control.

 Net Neutrality

The Fast-tracking of American Autocracy

A Daily Beast article recently pointed out that these new proposals whittling down net neutrality protections smacks of a kind of authoritarianism. We got a taste of it before the Obama administration adopted net neutrality rules. When singer Eddie Vedder criticized then-president George W. Bush, AT&T censored the livestream. 

The Daily Beast writer also pointed out that 
AT&T blocked the usage of Apple’s video chat service, FaceTime, in their network, so that customers would have to pay for more expensive data plans. Verizon blocked messages sent by abortion rights group NARAL, saying that their content was too controversial.
 Net NeutralityWill there be a time when your ISP can regularly decide which subjects are permissible online? Will content be screened by corporate censors with only "approved" information making its way online?

These proposed changes are every bit as worrisome. 
Imagine not being able to converse with a friend or loved one, based solely on their political outspokenness, for “attacking the system.” Imagine a much-needed communications app disappearing from service without warning—just like how Skype was removed earlier this week from Apple and Android’s app stores in China. Like the dictators who expend vast resources to quash dissidence—think China’s Xi Jinping or Russia’s Vladimir Putin—the FCC is moving to tear up America’s guarantee of a free internet.
Is this just an overreaction? 

However, who would have thought that the 1986 FCC ruling on the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine back in the Reagan era would have given birth to something as damaging as Fox News and the plethora of hate-spewing right-wing radio programs? 

That FCC ruling was made in exactly the same way. That FCC vote was also opposed by members of Congress who attempted to preempt the FCC decision and codify the Fairness Doctrine. The effort failed? And why? 
The legislation was vetoed by President Reagan. When another attempt was made to return to the Fairness Doctrine in 1991, then-president George H.W. Bush threatened another veto.

It was shoved down the throats of the American public and within no time at all, the Rupert Murdochs of the world were ready to cash in and exert its corrosive effect on the American Republic. 
Just like the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine, these changes are not merely about making profits or even empire-building.

Some critics of the FCC plan see it as just one step in a larger plan. The next step will be for corporations like NewsCorp (or its equivalent) to acquire Internet Service providers in particular demographic areas and then begin limiting their ability to access information that would contradict their own political prejudices. 
It is a key step towards narrowing the feed of information to the less informed, lower income electorate. "Republican voters." Restrictions in internet by pricing is a key means to control the message to the voters who already have limited exposure to outside viewpoints.
It is no wonder, then, that the majority of Americans want no part of this FCC scheme.

FCC's Most Unpopular Ruling

The international non-profit digital rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has compiled a list of the opposition the FCC has received in response to its plan to end Network Neutrality and privacy protections. (Keep in mind this is not the complete list.)
The question is: Does the FCC give a damn what you or anybody thinks? Chairman Pai plans to push his plan forward regardless of public opinion. Full steam ahead.

Here's a video that does an excellent job explaining what the new rules really mean.

Net Neutrality's Terra-Cotta Army

So, what kind of Internet user would actually want to see these anti-net neutrality changes be implemented?
Fake people apparently.

NY Attorney General Schneiderman estimated that hundreds of thousands of Americans’ identities were stolen and used in spam campaigns that support repealing net neutrality. According to a story by CNBC:
Schneiderman, in an open letter, said an enormous number of fake comments were sent to the FCC about its move to repeal net neutrality rules. Those behind the scheme may have impersonated hundreds of thousands of real Americans by appropriating their names and addresses to make submissions, he said, in a scam akin to identity theft on a "massive scale."
In fact, the problem was much worse than that. Data scientist and software engineer, Jeff Kao analyzed pro-net neutrality comments. Of the comment submitted to the FCC from April-October 2017. at least 1.3 million fake pro-repeal comments were falsified.  His research found three points:
  • One pro-repeal spam campaign used mail-merge to disguise 1.3 million comments as unique grassroots submissions.
  • There were likely multiple other campaigns aimed at injecting what may total several million pro-repeal comments into the system.
  • It’s highly likely that more than 99% of the truly unique comments³ were in favor of keeping net neutrality.
What was the FCC response to Schneiderman's claim?
An FCC spokesperson, in a statement to CNBC, said Schneiderman's "so-called investigation is nothing more than a transparent attempt by a partisan supporter of the Obama Administration's heavy-handed internet regulations to gain publicity for himself."
The Press Secretary at Schneiderman's Office, Amy Spitalnick told CNBC:
"The potential impersonation of hundreds of thousands of Americans in order to influence the policy-making process should concern everyone — especially the FCC."
Clearly, the FCC would prefer to ignore the allegations of an organized campaign of false support. They also plan to push ahead regardless of the will of the people.
And how can they?
The FCC isn't required to follow public opinion.

Chairman Pai  FCC

Fighting Pai's Steamroller

Ultimately, the decision to strike down Obama's net neutrality protections will not come without a legal fight. And it is the courts that Pai's scheme might just unravel.

The ensuing court battle will very likely continue until 2020. That means there's going to be significant political fallout for Trump and the Republicans.
As the New York Times recently pointed out, Mr. Pai faces serious legal problems in attempting to justify his proposal.
Because he is killing net neutrality outright, not merely weakening it, he will have to explain to a court not just the shift from 2015 but also his reasoning for destroying the basic bans on blocking and throttling, which have been in effect since 2005 and have been relied on extensively by the entire internet ecosystem.
That's not going to be easy.
Moreover, the F.C.C. is acting contrary to public sentiment, which may embolden the judiciary to oppose Mr. Pai. Telecommunications policy does not always attract public attention, but net neutrality does, and polls indicate that 76 percent of Americans support it. The F.C.C., in short, is on the wrong side of the democratic majority.
Now is the time to show exactly what the democratic majority thinks about Pai's Internet killing plan. The website Mashable has some good advice and tools for letting your Congressional representative know how you feel about the abolition of Net Neutrality.

In addition to that, protests are planned at Verizon retail stores across the country on 7 December. The protests were organized by Demand Progress, Fight For The Future, and FreePress Action Fund.

Why at Verizon stores? TechCrunch explains:
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai used to work for Verizon as associate general counsel before landing at the Federal Communications Commission. Verizon has also been a staunch opponent to Net Neutrality, lobbying for a roll-back and spending millions in lawsuits to ditch Title II.
Pai might think that public opinion can be ignored but other members of the FCC Commission have other ideas. Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat FCC commissioner, urged the FCC to hold public hearings across the country before eliminating net neutrality rules. Rosenworcel said:
"I've called for public hearings before any change is made to these rules, just as Republican and Democratic commissions have done in the past. We should go directly to the American public to find out what they think about this proposal before any vote is taken to harm net neutrality."
That's how democracy works. Allowing the people to speak openly. That's precisely what's at stake if the Internet is enslaved by the would-be masters of cyberspace.