LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Why you should care about net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be voting to end net neutrality in a couple of weeks. If you don’t know or understand what net neutrality is, it means that broadband providers/internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, or wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T can’t block or slow down your access to lawful online content, nor can they create “fast lanes” for content providers who are willing to pay extra.

In short, net neutrality means that everyone has open and equal access to internet content and speeds. Ending net neutrality would throw that all out and allow ISPs free reign to pretty much do whatever they wanted.

Repealing net neutrality would allow ISPs to charge you extra to get access to the websites that you like the most. They could also block or filter the content that you see, or slow your speed down to a trickle — unless of course you were willing to pay for it. They could also favor certain websites or web browsers over others in exchange for promotion fees and special deals.

In countries without net neutrality rules, like Portugal for example, consumers are charged extra for service packages on top of their monthly internet access fee. Want to have access to your email? Its an additional monthly fee. Use Facebook or Instagram? That is an extra fee for a “social media” plan. Use streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu?

Well you have to pay extra for access to those too. If you game online using Steam or Playstation? Yep, there is an extra fee for those as well. Ending net neutrality in the U.S. will allow ISP providers to do exactly the same thing here. In addition to your monthly subscription fee to your streaming services, you would have to pay extra to your internet provider (on top of your monthly internet access fee) to use them.

ISPs could also “throttle” or slow down streaming speeds for certain sites as well. For example, Comcast could slow down your speed while accessing your Amazon Prime video as a means to try to get you to subscribe their viewing services. Use Skype to talk with loved ones overseas? Verizon could block or throttle your access in an attempt to get you to use your cell phone and purchase an overseas calling plan.

Without net neutrality, ISPs could also block sites that they disagree with. Say that media mogul Rupert Murdoch (who owns Fox News, among other media outlets) buys Comcast.

Murdoch could then instruct them to block access to all news sites except for those that he owns. Without net neutrality, he could do that. Maybe he makes a special deal with Google and decides that you can only use Google as your web browser. Without net neutrality, he could do that.

Do you download or stream music from sites like Spotify or Bandcamp? Well if your ISP decided to make a special deal with Apple Music/iTunes, they could block or severely hamper your access to other sites in an attempt to get you to use iTunes.

Like using Firefox to browse the web? Too bad, if your ISP makes a deal with the makers of Bing instead. Been using the same Yahoo email account for years? Well if your ISP doesn’t want you to have access to Yahoo for some reason, you won’t be checking it at home on your personal devices.

Ending net neutrality would also allow wireless carriers to do the same type of things, in addition to blocking third-party apps (like games, social apps, or even weather apps) if they wanted to. Watch Netflix or other streaming services on your phone? Same scenario as if you watch on your laptop, tablet or smart tv.

Ending net neutrality will almost certainly throttle access to information and free commerce, giving internet service providers the ability to limit what you can see, do and buy online — unless of course, you want to “pay to play” — and they will undoubtedly make us pay. It is no wonder that Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and other large online streaming services and retailers have denounced the rollback.

During the past month or so, I have received and read statements from Comcast and their support for net neutrality — promising that they would “not block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content,” and that their “policies will be clear and transparent to consumers.”

All well and good, but ask them if they are considering charging extra for service bundles or tiers as I mentioned above? Quiet as the proverbial church mice. Comcast intentionally reducing speeds for Netflix users in 2014 is why the net neutrality policy exists. Getting rid of net neutrality will allow them to go back to these same types of practices and more.

As part of the roll back of net neutrality, the FCC has also announced that it will not allow states to pass their own net neutrality legislation — a preemptive strike to keep states from keeping the current net neutrality policies and protect consumers. The FCC is essentially tying the hands of state governments from protecting consumers.

Concerned yet? You should be. Repealing net neutrality will give internet and wireless providers the freedom to control what you see and how you see it and limit your access to information and services that you use everyday.

Call Sens. Coons and Carper, Rep. Blunt-Rochester and/or email or tweet them. Message their Facebook pages or write a letter. You can call the FCC (toll free) in Washington at 1-800-CALLFCC (1-800-225-5322) and leave a comment or tweet the FCC chairman @ajitpaiFCC or email him at Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov.

Please also email these FCC members who plan to vote in favor of the rollback: Mike.OReilly@fcc.gov and Brendan.Carr@fcc.gov. You can also use battleforthenet.com to make your voice heard. Use the hashtag #NetNeutrality when posting to social media.

If enough pressure is applied, then maybe we can prevent this horrible mistake from happening and keep the internet, and our access to it, open and equal for all.

Michele Lapinski

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