Yesterday, April 23rd, the repeal of net neutrality took effect. What will these changes mean for internet users? Will the Restoring Internet Freedom order weaken human rights?
We anticipated this day since December when the FCC passed the vote repealing Net Neutrality. U.S. President Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai introduced the misleadingly-named Restoring Internet Freedom Order.
The order repeals the Obama-era rules which Pai called “heavy-handed” and gives Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the right to control what content websites get to transmit over their network.
From now on, ISPs have the legal go-ahead to block websites and curtail free speech at their discretion.
Is Internet Use a Human Right?
The Internet is by far the most essential tool for communication in our lives. It’s no longer a luxury but a necessity.
In 2016, the United Nations passed a non-binding resolution that condemns countries that intentionally take away or disrupt its citizens’ internet access.
The Internet enhances basic rights like access to information, freedom of speech, more equal opportunities, and inclusive education just to name a few. Without a doubt, it should be free and open to all without discrimination.
But it doesn’t seem like the recent repeal of net neutrality bill safeguards our right to use the Internet freely. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Now ISPs have free-reign to block, throttle, and prioritize those who with the means to pay.
What is the net Neutrality Bill and why Does it Matter?
Let’s recap. Instituted by the Obama administration, the Title II Open Internet Order aimed to limit the ISP’s ability to manipulate internet traffic for financial gain.
It ensured that ISPs could not slow down connections for people accessing specific websites, apps, and services. It also stops them from charging companies higher fees for better internet access.
Net neutrality treats all data equally, whether you’re making a bitcoin transaction or streaming Lost in Space on Netflix.
This is how the Net Neutrality bill earned its reputation as the “first amendment of the Internet”.
Without it, ISPs no longer have to treat all internet traffic equally. Repealing the net neutrality bill means that ISPs can prioritize certain websites and services over others. The balance of power we have previously experienced has now shifted to the ISPs.
How will Repealing the Net neutrality bill Change the Internet as we Know it?
Since the start, principles of openness and neutrality have underpinned the Internet.
It is one of very few platforms that levels the social playing field. No matter where or who you were, as long as you had WiFi you could access the same information as anyone else. It gave an outlet to those who otherwise wouldn’t be heard and made opportunities more widely available.
Restoring Internet Freedom Order Divides us into Winners and Losers
Repealing the net neutrality bill divides internet users into winners and losers.
Who wins? Obviously, the large ISPs will benefit the most.
In the past, these companies have had local monopolies. But now, they have been given the opportunity to discriminate between their own services and their competitors. The power repealing the net neutrality bill places in the hands of ISPs lets them charge companies for access to everything.
Other large companies like Google and Facebook are also likely to emerge as winners.
Their popularity will ensure that they aren’t at risk of being blocked or throttled by ISPs. Imagine the upheaval of not being able to search on Google would cause. In addition, access fees would hardly put a dent in Mark Zuckerberg’s $67 billion dollar corporation.
Meanwhile, smaller businesses and startups who may not be able to afford access fees will take the blow.
Repealing the net neutrality bill is a threat to innovation. From now on it will be harder for new companies to compete. While they are at risk of discrimination from ISPs, Internet giants will benefit from reduced competition.
Will Restoring Internet Order Weaken Human Rights?
If you’re reading this, then you will probably agree that Internet access is an intrinsic part of America’s way of life.
Today, the Internet is an essential part of education, health services, and finding employment. For people on the margins of society, the Internet has been an amazing tool for upward mobility.
Net neutrality was not just about who owns internet access, but also how we were able to use it and benefit from it.
Before, the net neutrality bill meant that the less privileged people could overtake social discrimination to succeed without access to traditional routes or financial resources. It also meant marginalized communities could engage in the political process.
The Internet provides a platform to protest systemic discrimination and harness individual empowerment. Without net neutrality, it is likely that we will have to pay a higher price for a higher tier of internet access.
Splitting the Internet into fast and slow lanes on a tolled highway places power into the hands of a privileged few.
The Net Neutrality Bill is Gone but not Forgotten
The uproar caused by the decision to repeal the net neutrality bill has echoed in our ears since the end of last year.
With recent advancements, it’s set to get louder.
States including Montana, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Vermont have gone against the grain and signed orders to preventing the repeal of net neutrality. Many others have proposed legislation aimed to preserve net neutrality.
Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York signed an executive order and allegedly banned the government of New York State from entering contracts with ISPs unless they are based on net neutrality principles.
Surprisingly, online businesses have also challenged repealing the net neutrality bill. Reddit protested by changing its logo to make it appear to be loading extremely slowly.
Similarly, Amazon and Netflix added banners to their homepages to show their support. Numerous online businesses such as Etsy also filed lawsuits due to net neutrality.
Then there’s the investigation surrounding Pai’s tenure which also adds fuel to the fire.
The tenure goes against certain rules under which his agency is legally bound to operate. Investigations revealed that his Restoring Internet Freedom Order was made without satisfying the evidentiary burden required by law. These investigations found a number of largely corrupt methods used in the campaign including over a million fake anti-neutrality comments generated by bots.
Net neutrality may be banished in law, but it remains at the heart of much debate.
Yesterday we watched that go down the drain along with net neutrality. Without it, the economic divide and gap in opportunities will widen.
Abolishing net neutrality can potentially lead to discriminatory practices. Offering some internet users free or prioritized access but not all puts equality and human rights at risk.
It’s also worrying that yesterday’s events were sparked by someone who is currently being investigated for operating illegally.
The Restoring Internet Freedom Order may have its benefits in the future, but at the moment, they are difficult to see.