THIS MIGHT BE MY LAST POST, COURTESY OF THE FCC
I don’t mean to sound bleak, but there’s a nonzero chance that this post will be my last post to this site. Why? Because at the time of writing this, the FCC’s vote to repeal the Title II classification that was appointed to the internet under the Obama administration is only a few days away. In just a few days, Ajit Pai and the 4 other commissioners of the FCC will likely vote 3-2 in favor of repealing Net Neutrality (henceforth NN, I'm lazy sue me).
I haven’t heard a single convincing argument for the repeal of NN. In fact, I haven’t heard a single argument that hasn’t been thoroughly debunked in favor of the repeal of NN. Just a quick recap of some of the arguments:
- No, a NN-free internet won’t be more competitive. In fact, it will likely stand still for a very long time, perhaps until the next "internet" comes along to replace ours.
- No, NN does not harm the sick and disabled, Mr. Pai.
- No, the repeal of NN will not magically create faster internet for users of special content and somehow leave the rest of the internet alone. The internet will drastically slow down to compensate.
- No, ISPs will not become angelic, graceful delegators of the internet who will allow access to content that profits competitors. You can bet your ass that those sites will be BLOCKED.
I could go on (and have gone on—twice) but I won’t here. I do want to address one sentiment that I have heard several times; the "Net Neutrality repeal won’t really affect me" argument. This is patently false unless you’re a hermit in the mountains with no contact to the outside world, and it’s simply not possible for an isolated hermit to be reading this. So, within rounding error, the repeal of NN will detriment the internet-ing experience of 100% of American citizens. Everyone will see the ill-effects of the corporate structuring of the internet. Let’s take a look at how.
(Quick note: I’m gonna be picking on Comcast for this argument. I chose Comcast mostly because they’re the biggest ISP in America, but for another pretty major reason that you’ll see in a bit. Strap in, ladies and gents.)
THREE GOOD EXAMPLES OF WEBSITES THAT YOUR ISP WILL PROBABLY BLOCK
Let’s start with NBC: The National Broadcasting Company. Ever heard of it? Of course, you have. It’s one of the Big Five (formerly Big Three) networks in American media. They’re a big deal. Everything from sports to stocks to entertainment to the goddamn Blacklist (once you’ve seen James Spader in a fedora, it’s really hard to see him in a baseball cap), all of that comes from NBC. And NBC is perhaps the most famous of the many names that is owned by Comcast. So, if you own Comcast, then congrats! NBC will be faster than ever in a week’s time. If you don’t, well then, you’re SOL. NBC will be among the first networks and sites blocked by most ISPs, because NBC is a big profit engine for Comcast. If you’re using NBC content, after all, then you aren’t using your own ISP’s alternative, and you’re driving profits away. So, your ISP will block NBC from you, and you’ll have to use something else.
Other Comcast Assets
What else does Comcast own? Well, this Wikipedia page has all of the assets that Comcast owns (not investments, just ownerships), but I’ll give you some of the highlights. Besides everything out of NBC, Comcast also owns Universal Studios and DreamWorks. These are owned by Comcast, these two huge studios for the creation of movies and entertainment. And these two companies will be all but gone from the internet of other ISPs. Comcast also owns 30% of Hulu. Yes, Hulu, the TV and movie streaming service second in America only to Netflix. If you don’t have Comcast, then you’d best cancel that Hulu subscription before your ISP blocks the site from you. Oh, and do you like watching MLB baseball or NHL hockey? Tough luck, because Comcast has ownership stakes in both of those companies. This is all a big deal. And this might not all be blocked by other ISPs, but it will all be upcharged and paywalled to high hell. It’s scary, just how powerful one ISP can be, and if you aren’t under Comcast’s wing, then this all becomes foreign content to you.
I'll do just one more example, before I bore you to death. But I want this one to hit close to home, so let’s talk about what might happen to our little corner of the net: The Verge. Oh, yes, The Verge will not remain untouched by the repeal of Net Neutrality. The Verge is one of several sites owner by a larger company called Vox Media. Scroll to the bottom of this page, and you’ll see that Vox Media logo. Click on it (or here) to go to their site. You’ll see some more sites that Vox owns, including some pretty big names like Recode and Polygon, two other tech-oriented sites (sidenote: I swear Polygon looks exactly like The Verge before the redesign last year). These three, along with several others, all are owned under Vox Media.
Now, if you watched Nilay Patel’s second video on Net Neutrality, you might have heard him offhandedly mention that Comcast is an investor in Vox Media. Well, on the Vox Media website's investors page, they’ve got several investors that are prominently displayed, and among them is Comcast. Comcast is a huge investor in Vox Media; to the tune of $200 million, invested last August into the company. With that kind of investment, you can bet that the sites owned by Vox drive a fair profit to Comcast. Yes, in a roundabout-ish way, The Verge is partially owned by Comcast.
So, do you think other ISPs will allow access to a Comcast profit engine? Not a chance. Best case scenario, Vox sites will be relegated to an obscure, expensive paywall for regular speed access, but will still be accessible via slower speeds. But that’s not what I believe will happen. I think that all of the Vox Media sites will be blocked, full stop. No paywall, no opportunity to purchase access. Just blocked. While I’ve been careful to not mention my own ISP (though if you really wanted to, you could probably figure it out with my other posts in the forums), I am not subscribed to Comcast service. Where I live, it’s not even an option. This means that the entire goddamn city I live in would be blocked from accessing The Verge. I would no longer have access to this site, and chances are that you’d fall into the same boat as me.
PLEASE LISTEN ONE MORE TIME
Finally, I want to really stress that all of this I have listed above is not a disaster scenario; it's not "the worst that could happen." It's the goddamn reality. If NN falls in America, then the kinds of blocks and bans I've detailed will happen. Period. During the first battle for Net Neutrality in 2015, this picture of a tiered internet system went viral:
I've linked this image before, but I will again because it's so convincing. This looks bad, but it also doesn't seem real...right? Wrong. This is a picture from an actual ISP in Portugal, where NN does not exist:
I cannot stress enough that this kind of system will become the reality—our reality—very quickly if NN is repealed. Please, please, please fight for our internet. This issue is your issue. The battle for the net is your fight, and Net Neutrality is YOUR problem. If you don’t fight for it now, you will be sorry.
On that chilling sentiment, have a good day. Enjoy your free, open internet while you still can, because unless something major happens, you won’t be able to for long. I’m gonna look for apartments in Amsterdam, and hopefully find one I like before my ISP blocks those sites.