From Devin Glaser, Upgrade Seattle
“If a tree falls in a forest and you have to pay a surcharge to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Yesterday’s announcement that the FCC plans to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations should have all internet-users rethinking the classic thought experiment. Without net neutrality, internet service providers like Comcast and CenturyLink will be given total control over what you see and access on the internet, a one-two punch that decreases consumer choice and increases the number of ways they can raise your monthly bill.
Net neutrality is the simple provision that all content on the web has to be treated equally, regardless of who makes it and their ability to pay. Small (and gorgeous) websites like www.upgradeseattle.com have to be treated the same as www.amazon.com when you type them into your browser. Comcast can’t slow down or block Netflix in an attempt to boost use of their own service Hulu. CenturyLink can’t interfere with Facebook’s voice service in order to force consumers into buying land lines.
Even scarier than slow Netflix and higher prices is the unprecedented level of censorship this would pave the way for. As our recent election has shown, Comcast and CenturyLink have no qualms about spending exorbitant amounts of money to influence Seattle elections. Without net neutrality, your internet service provider would be clear to block any content it didn’t agree with.
In 2015, Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Rob Johnson prominently featured their support for municipal broadband on their campaign pages. In a world without net neutrality, Comcast, CenturyLink, and Wave would be legally allowed to block your access to their campaign websites.
If it sounds dystopian, it is. Earlier this year Comcast sent a cease and desist letter to the net neutrality advocates at Comcastroturf.com in an attempt to silence their work. But once the FCC regulations change they can simply block the site.
Fortunately, the internet is not dead yet. While FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has shown little interest in public comment, your elected representatives still care about public sentiment. In Seattle, residents can call their federal elected officials and demand they enshrine net neutrality into law, rather than relying on agency regulation. Better yet, Seattle residents can call up their local elected officials and demand they continue working towards building a public internet utility. A public utility not only guarantees lower prices and better service, but would have net neutrality provisions baked into its DNA.
Devin Glaser is the Policy and Political Director of Upgrade Seattle, a grassroots organization that advocates for municipal broadband.