It appears that the repeal of FCC Net Neutrality rules is a done deal. Opponents are already screaming bloody murder, announcing the end of the Internet. At this point, I can't say that those claims are just fear mongering. As, for example, Roger Stone has pointed out, those rules were knee jerk, ham handed, largely ineffective, and granted the FCC way too much authority. Contrary to popular belief, the rules didn't even address consumer data protection. ISP's can and, I would imagine, do sell our data. While Mr. Stone is correct in asserting that repeal is the right decision, what he and others celebrating the repeal fail to realize and address is that, freed from any prohibitions, ISP's will engage in the exact same abuses that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other content platform providers have already been caught at, and worse. The fact is, they are already engaging in these abuses, to the extent that they can currently get away with them. I know, because I'm experiencing it. The current rules need to go, but simply repealing them will not fix the very real problems they were intended to address, and may make those problems a lot worse.
When we moved to our current location almost two years ago, I had no choice but to sign up for Time Warner Cable's broadband and phone service, because Verizon, our provider at that time, had just sold all of their landlines, DSL and Fios service to Frontier Communications. Frontier's horrible reputation is deserved, as they proved a year later, when I did try to switch to them (I'll get to why in a minute). Not only did they fail to even show up for three installation appointments, they then tried to charge us for services they never installed.
We were satisfied with our TWC service for the first year. It was a little less reliable and three times the cost of our former provider, but quite a bit faster. then came the Sectrum purchase. It was less than three months before the promises to honor our TWC contract evaporated. They began by "giving" everyone a speed increase, which of course broke our grandfathered TWC contract. We were immediately bumped up over twenty dollars, which is why I tried and failed to switch to Frontier, learning from that experience that Spectrum has a de facto monopoly in my area, and they are taking advantage of it. I am not a wealthy man. We had to use California Lifeline service to keep phone service and internet. Since then, we've been subjected to gradual, subtle fee increases, and literally bombarded, sometimes two or three times a day, with automated calls, emails and flyers pushing Spectrum's bundled cable/phone/internet package ($29.99 EACH, for the first year, then it goes to three digits).
To me, it looks as if they are attempting to force customers to use all of their services, by making it gradually too expensive not to do so, in those areas where they enjoy a monopoly. A few days ago, right after it became clear that Net Neutrality rules would be repealed, we started having issues with the streaming services we use, including Amazon Prime and Youtube. We've also had an ongoing issue with newsletters we subscribe to simply stopping, especially those from conservative and alternative news websites. Is it overzealous spam filters and network glitches, or throttling, blocking and censorship? I think we'll soon find out.
I can only assume that Spectrum is testing the waters in anticipation of the end of Net Neutrality. Amazon, Youtube and others are competing for their cable customers, so it only stands to reason that they will take steps to eliminate that competition just as soon as they can legally do so. It will not surprise me if Spectrum and other ISP's start blocking websites outright in the near future, and I can't see them not immediately charging extra fees to access a whole list of popular websites, just as Spectrum and the others do now for premium cable channels. As things stand, I see myself soon being forced to give up home Internet completely and go with a smart phone contract, something I never wanted to do, and that I deeply resent being shoved into.
While the antics of Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Twitter, etc. regarding privacy and censorship is a thorny issue, given that they are private companies providing services that are not currently, and probably should not be, regulated, it requires only the deft application of a tool that is already in place, the Sherman Antitrust Act, along with continued pressure from consumers. The problem of ISP's abusing their market is a somewhat easier nut to crack.
Consider that the Internet is a communications system with far greater capabilities than the previous telephone system. In other words, going online is just a very complicated phone call. ISP's are providing the same service as the phone carriers they replaced. They offer customers a conduit through which we can transmit data. It doesn't really matter what that data is. They're doing the same job that GTE did, it is correct to view them as such for legal purposes, and there are already legal processes in place to address some of what they might do, including data collection and censorship. What would have happened if GTE had been caught recording your calls, cutting you off or canceling your service when you said something they didn't like, or reducing call quality or just refusing to connect the call if you called people they didn't want you talking to? I think wiretapping charges would have been the least of it.
What's more, unlike Google, Facebook and the rest, they are providing a service that most people can't do without today. Imagine trying to bank, advertise your business and communicate with customers, apply for work or communicate with your employer, be a journalist, get the news for that matter, or any of dozens of other things I haven't thought of here, without Internet access, and you get the idea. I don't have to use Facebook or Twitter, and I don't. Having to go to my bank branch every time I need to use their services, in the world of today, is problematic at best.
The whole issue boils down to this; Internet service providers have, by becoming content providers and content platform providers, created a conflict of interest that hurts the consumer and will suppress free markets. The same solution that worked, and hopefully will soon be restored, for commercial and invenstment banking, applies here. Congress needs to pass a Glass-Steagall Act for the Internet. A simple law prohibiting Internet service providers from also being content providers and/or content platforms, and vice versa, removes the incentive to engage in content throttling, site blocking, etc.. The issue would just go away.
I have absolutely no hope of seeing any such common sense solution out of the collection of wingnuts making up our so called leadership. So, unless it shakes out in court in the public's favor, I expect that in a couple of years, Ajit Pai will be announcing his resignation from atop the virtual rubble of whatever is left of the Internet by then.
I am, and have always been, unafraid to voice my opinions. In fact I believe everyone needs to vent now and then, and we all have a God given right to do so. I despise willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, and take a perhaps perverse pleasure in puncturing the politically correct proclamations of those who have anointed themselves as our betters. I could be described as a contrarian and a bit of a curmudgeon, having now reached an age at which those labels no longer sound odd. Not everything I'll address here will be controversial. In fact, I would rather keep that sort of thing somewhat limited (and it should surprise no one that I probably won't succeed in doing so). We already have our fill of whining talking heads on the 'net. However, if you are easily offended or thin skinned, you might want to skip this blog. You have been warned.