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Remember when long distance cost extra? When the Internet was billed by the hour? If we were to bring those concepts back, it would be a disservice to mankind and step backwards for communication in general. On the same vein, what ISPs want to do to the Internet is a step backwards. There has been a lot of buzz about net neutrality lately, with cries going out for the Internet to contact the FCC and voice displeasure. Of course, telecommunication lobbyists aren't just resting on their laurels... they have began a campaign of misinformation and downright trickery to try and force their way. It's all about profits, not about consumers as they would like you to believe. Let's take a look.

What is net neutrality? 

Put simply, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all data on the Internet as equal. This means no data discrimination for premium services like Netflix, and not charging separate rates based on the user, the content they view, the sites the visit, what computer or operating system they use, or what protocols are utilized. This concept is also known as an "open Internet", and it's this very concept that has allowed the net to flourish and propagate. Without net neutrality, your Internet could look like this: 
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A hypothetical future without net neutrality

The FCC and ISPs

As we are all aware, politics is a crooked game. Enter FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has no business being in that position since his background is all about serving the needs of the telecommunications industry. From 1992 to 2004, Mr. Wheeler was the CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. This association exists solely to serve the needs of the ISPs such as Verizon, AT&T, TimeWarner, and the like. It advocates changes to net neutrality, and tries to push those changes into law by spending millions of dollars to finance the "right" candidates and by lobbying all levels of our government. In short, CTIA exists to make ISPs more money. 

Back in January, a federal court struck down laws that protected consumers from greedy ISPs and opened the door for Internet providers to discriminate against content by filtering and slowing it down. Verizon was first to strike, basically extorting Netflix for the right to continue delivering content to customers. Chairman Wheeler wants to go even further and allow ISPs to bascially split up traffic into "regular" and "fast lane"... this so called "fast lane" would of course come at a premium to consumers, even though your quality of service would not see any tangible benefit. 

This creates a conflict of interest, and shows just how cable companies are trying to hold onto their ever dwindling slice of the pie. AT&T announced plans to launch a new online video service and Comcast owns NBC Universal, which includes 30 cable networks, 26 television stations, and the video service Hulu (a direct competitor to Netflix). By leveraging changes they wish to enforce, AT&T or Comcast could slow down competitors services or charge them exorbitant rates & licensing fees to deliver content while at the same time ensuring that their own in-house services like Hulu have network priority. This is not just anti-competitive, it's downright shady... but it gets even shadier.  

Cable companies being shady

In a world where dollars can buy votes, cable companies are writing checks as fast they can. When the legal loopholes were met with public resistance, they decided to resort to downright trickery and bullshit. Broadband for America is an anti net neutrality group entirely funded by the National Cable and Telecom Association, a front for big cable that is in turn funded by the ISPs. Currently, Broadband for America is lobbying for as much change as the FCC can provide while at the same time pretending to be a coalition "for the people"... to back this up, it lists a ton of membership from organizations and companies that it supposedly represents. The only problem is, the members never joined and don't support them at all. From BoingBoing:
Don Hollister, the executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, said he was unaware of his organization being listed as a Broadband for America member. After our inquiry, Hollister wrote to us to share a message he sent to Broadband for America: "The Ohio League of Conservation Voters does not endorse your position on broadband. This is not a policy area that we take positions on. Why are we listed as a Broadband for America member? I am unaware of Ohio LCV taking any position on broadband issues and I have been Executive Director since 2011. The Ohio LCV is not a member of Broadband for America. Remove us from your listing of members."

Other groups we contacted were simply confused. "I'm not aware of them and I pay all the bills. I've never heard of Broadband for America," replied Keith Jackson, an accountant with the Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn, a cozy bed-and-breakfast in Ohio that is listed as a Broadband for America member.

The participation of other Broadband for America members includes more improbable stalwarts of the broadband industry agenda like a tile and roofing company, a Virginia college scholarship program, a golf club in Salem, Oregon, and the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission.

But the trickery doesn't end there, that would be too easy! Instead, cable companies are now creating and bankrolling entirely fake "consumer advocacy" groups that purport to be against net neutrality. Many of the members of these fake advocacy groups are entirely unaware what side they have taken, have been grossly misled into believing that net neutrality is crippling the Internet, and in general have been tricked or bought off. Many of the groups that claim to be "independent consumer advocacy groups" have been shown to be financed by the cable industry. Verizon is actively engaged in astroturfing, whereby it sends tens of thousands of emails to politicians to try and provide a false "public opinion" that is anything but. The emails all purport to be supportive of Verizon and their plans, and all purport to be from members of the public, but they are completely fabricated. Could it possibly get any dirtier? Yes, it can. 
Most recently, it was discovered that Verizon lobbyists are arguing that net neutrality is harmful to blind, deaf, and disabled Americans. This argument is of course nothing but pure fabrication and is actively disputed by the American Association of People with Disabilities. It's not the first time Verizon has been caught doing this either... in 2009, they used the exact same pitch to argue for new laws regarding ISPs. Verizon's CEO said that "people with health conditions would not benefit from life-saving technological advances if Verizon wasn't allowed to prioritize certain medical data"; of course, Verizon has no plans to prioritize medical data... they want to muddle with video and on demand media, in order to increase their bottom line. 

In the first quarter of this year alone, ISPs have spent over $19 million on lobbyists to fight net neutrality, and used trickery to convince non-profit groups that they were on the wrong side. 

Outrageous! What can I can do? 

Recently, the FCC has moved forward to kill net neutrality. The plan is widely loathed, and even the mother of one of the FCC's commissioners called to complain. The plan will allow for companies to pay ISPs for better delivery of their services and will eventually lead to ISPs demanding extra money from companies like Netflix. The people of the Internet are obviously not happy with this plan, and collectively we have the voice needed to squash this. Here's how:

  • Go to FCC.gov/comments and find the proceeding with the title "Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet"; it is at the top, with over 20,000 filings. On the left, click on the proceeding number (14-28) and you will be able to add your commentary. Fill out the form completely, and let them know that you are not happy with changing the foundation of the Internet and that you support a free and open Internet subject to net neutrality protections. 
  • Make phone calls. Here is a list & sample script you can use, courtesy of FreePress:
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: 1-202-418-1000
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn: 1-202-418-2100
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly: 1-202-418-2300
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai: 1-202-418-2000
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: 1-202-418-2400
I'm calling to urge the FCC to scrap its plan to allow Internet service providers to charge for preferential treatment. These rules would destroy Net Neutrality. I urge the commission to throw them out and instead reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. This is the only way to restore real Net Neutrality.
On a side note, not all the companies with a vested interest in the Internet support changes by the FCC. Google, AOL, Dish Network, Vonage, Microsoft, and Level 3 Communications are all in favor of net neutrality. The biggest enemies of net neutrality include AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast (worst three, by far) as well as Time Warner, Cablevision, Cisco, and Charter. For a better break down of how they spend their money to fight net neutrality, see this. Don't just sit there and do nothing while the Internet is ruined... spread the word, share with your friends, find active petitions and sign them, make phone calls & write letters, and let your voice (and our collective voice) be heard; we will not stand by while the Internet is destroyed!
 


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