Net Gain, Net Loss

On the back-burner of news coverage is the issue of net neutrality—an issue you should really know more about.
Published November 05, 2018 | 5 min read

A number of important issues have been pushed off the table of national consciousness amid gun control, the Russia investigation, Stormy Daniels, tariffs and a potential summit with North Korea.

Among them is a looming battle over net neutrality, a complicated matter that gained traction last week when the governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, signed a law prohibiting internet providers from blocking content or slowing down your access.

The new statue is merely the first counter-punch to the Federal Communications Commission, which scrapped its own rules governing online servers three months ago. The feds had acted since 2015 as the internet’s official referee, prohibiting cable providers from messing with one’s free flow of web content.

Washington is not alone. A handful of other states, Connecticut most prominently, are considering similar measures.

Their main power is over ISPs that want to do work for their states or have state contracts involving their businesses. That’s most of them. Violating local net neutrality provisions could cost these internet pipeliners millions.

And yet changes are coming fast in the wake of the Republican-controlled FCC’s decision on Dec. 14, with many different sides — Congress, telcoms, consumer advocates, and all the big players in social media  — weighing in.

It’s safe to say this conflict isn’t going to be dying down anytime soon.

So…if you happen to not know much about the issue, or not really care, it’s time to learn — and to form an opinion.

The most engaging presentation on this that we’ve seen comes from John Oliver, who did an extended segment on net neutrality in May. His show, “Last Week Tonight,” created a link to the FCC comments page, making it easier for people to express their views on the issue. (He noted that support for net neutrality was the one thing that Trump trolls and lefty liberals had in common.)

The YouTube version of that segment got 7.2 million views. So a lot of people do actually give a damn.

Unfortunately, the public comment process was overwhelmed by, you guessed it, fakes.

Bots allegedly posted more than two million bogus comments, using stolen identities from people around the country, according to New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who sued the FFC in a bid to protect net neutrality rules. Who exactly was behind this latest form of meddling never became clear.

In any case, Schneiderman’s complaint didn’t work.

Seven months after Oliver’s show aired, the FCC voted 3-2 to scrap the protection.

Now what?

Looks like populist resistance is mounting. Already there is a significant challenge in the federal courts.

Yet the regulators show no signs of backing down.

Anytime you get a clash between corporate titans — Comcast and Verizon on one side, for example, with Google and consumer protection groups on the other, there’s usually only one true winner.

The lawyers.

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