In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a set of rules to keep the internet fair and open. But today, under the leadership of FCC Commissioner and Kansas native Ajit Pai, the agency is working to repeal those rules. If successful, the negative consequences will be felt by everyone who uses the internet.
The 2015 open internet rules were intended to prevent internet service providers or ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from blocking access to lawful content, slowing down connections based on the source of the content, or allowing paid prioritization based on the source of the content.
In a nutshell, the rules require ISPs to treat all internet content equally, without discrimination based on the source of the content. Absent these rules, your ISP will legally have the authority to control what content you can access online, and at what speed.
This concept of equality in providing access to content is often referred to as “net neutrality.”
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Here’s a good analogy: Postal carriers may charge higher fees for larger boxes, but they cannot charge higher fees simply because of the source of the goods in the box. For example, they can’t charge $10 for goods originating from Target and $20 for goods originating from Walmart. Doing so would be discriminatory and would have a chilling effect on competition and an open economy.
In the internet economy, this takes the form of ISPs charging a content producer like Netflix more money to transmit its content over the ISP’s network simply because the content is coming from Netflix instead of another content provider.
And this isn’t just theory. It actually happened in 2013. Before the open internet rules were adopted, it was discovered that certain ISPs were slowing down users’ access to Netflix content. The throttling continued until Netflix agreed to pay the ISPs more money to transmit its content.
This kind of behavior harms the internet economy and average consumers.
For starters, if Netflix is required to pay more for adequate speeds on a certain ISP, then your subscription costs are going to rise. Further, while Netflix can pay those fees (and pass them on to you), it is highly unlikely that a new tech startup in Kansas City would be able to pay similar fees. The end result is a higher barrier to entry and less competition.
Additionally, ISPs will be incentivized to charge certain content providers more (or block your access to that content altogether) if those content providers compete with the ISP or its business affiliates or partners. Adding to these problems is the fact that most Americans only have one or two ISPs to choose from to get internet service, meaning there is virtually no competition.
Thousands of tech companies, both big and small (including Netflix), oppose repealing the open internet rules. Further, most Americans support net neutrality. According to a recent poll by the nonprofit Mozilla free-software community, there is overwhelming support for net neutrality in both political parties. Over three-quarters of Americans support net neutrality. Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans are in favor of it, according to the survey.
Congress and the FCC should pay attention.
So what’s next? Pai and the rest of the FCC policymakers are planning to vote on repealing the 2015 open internet rules on Dec. 14, and it is expected to pass 3-2. If you want to stand up for a fair and open internet, and the entrepreneurs and internet users in Kansas City who depend on it, contact your representatives and senators and ask them to push the FCC to remove the repeal vote from its meeting agenda.
Chris Brown is the founder of Venture Legal, a Kansas City law firm serving the entrepreneurial community.