In February 2015, back when Barack Obama was still president, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed sweeping net neutrality regulations to ensure that internet service providers (ISPs) wouldn’t block or slow down anyone’s internet traffic based on what websites you visit, a concept known as “net neutrality.” But now that Donald Trump is president, his FCC Chairman Ajit Pai just unveiled his plans to undo net neutrality. (Right before a holiday weekend when fewer people are paying attention.)
The FCC’s Republican majority is expected to vote in favor of the Trump net neutrality plan at a December 14 meeting, so here’s how Pai’s plans would negatively impact the internet (and what we can do about it.)
What the web would look like under new Trump net neutrality rules
If you want an idea of how Pai’s plans would change the internet, just look at Portugal. Right now, U.S. net neutrality laws make it so that you can use a web app or site for a flat monthly fee. But in Portugal, the country’s wireless carrier Meo offers a pricing plan depending on what apps and websites you want to use.
If you want to access social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, that’ll cost you $5.86 per month. If you want to use music apps like Spotify, SoundCloud or Google Play, that’s an additional $5.68 a month. Want to use Skype or FaceTime? That’s another $5.68. Email or cloud services? Add $5.68.
While this a la carte pricing might not sound so bad, particularly if you don’t use music or social media apps, the bigger problem is that this system would allow big telecommunication companies to shut out smaller websites and apps that can’t afford the pay-to-play system. Web start-ups won’t always be able afford the cost of being bundled in with a company’s other pre-approved sites and apps. And if they don’t pay up, telecoms shut out new sites and apps by making sure that they receive less bandwidth to run. Without that bandwidth, the apps and sites operate horribly, even if they’re designed better.
And if a telecom doesn’t like a site’s politics or sees an app as a competitor, they could freeze them out too. It also uniquely affects LGBTQ people because if an ISP doesn’t like a gay website or app (like ours), they could restrict access to both, making it harder for LGBTQ people to talk with and learn about their community.
How to fight back against the Trump net neutrality plan
Pai’s plan is basically a cash bonanza for telecoms and the result of intense lobbying efforts by telecoms and ISPs. Republican voters overwhelmingly favor net neutrality as do huge American tech companies like Microsoft, eBay, Facebook, Google and Amazon, but Pai has shown little interest in what net neutrality advocates think. Several groups are fighting back though, and you can help.
On Dec. 7, 2017, three groups — Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and Free Press— are encouraging Verizon customers to protest in-person outside of Verizon’s stores.