Do you like paying more for less? If so, then you’re going to love President Trump’s plan to eliminate Net Neutrality.
For those not familiar with the term, it basically means that an internet service provider can’t slow or block your bandwidth to certain websites, nor can they charge you extra fees for access to certain parts of the internet. It is this philosophy, codified into sensible regulations supported pretty much unanimously by the tech industry, that allows you to freely navigate the internet. It’s what makes it so you can subscribe to any video streaming service you want instead of being forced to use the one provided by your cable company. It’s what protects small business owners from having to pay a ransom to every major ISP in the country in order to not have their websites blocked or slowed.
Net Neutrality may not be around for much longer, though, if the telecom industry and its lapdogs in Congress get their way. The rules that protect us from abusive practices like the ones I described are in the process of being repealed by the new FCC. I cannot overstate the disastrous effects this will have on our economy — with the exception of the telecom giants, who stand to profit immensely. Congress has the power to prevent this here and now by-passing Net Neutrality legislation, but they have thus far failed to take any action on the issue.
Where does Senator Jeff Merkley stand on all this? That’s a good question. Since we’re not hearing much from him or his colleagues on the matter, let’s see what we can glean from his recent campaign contributions.
According to OpenSecrets, Senator Merkley has accepted the least money from the telecom industry among members of the United States Senate. He should be commended; however, that doesn’t mean we should assume that he’ll do the right thing on this issue. Voters need to make sure he knows that, if Net Neutrality is lost because he failed to fight for it, so too will his Senate seat be lost after the 2020 election.
Let’s say that car companies were allowed to charge you extra for driving to certain destinations. Better yet, they can charge you for driving to any destination not on a predetermined list. You’d still own the car, but you’d have to keep paying the people you bought it from every time you drive it. Does that sound fair?
Don’t worry, the car will probably still take you to your destination, either way, though the onboard computer has been programmed to not let you drive faster than 15 miles per hour until you pay the ransom. They wouldn’t call it a ransom, of course; they’d call it an “optional upgrade,” even though they’re not actually providing any additional services or features. Fortunately, unlike the telecom companies, America’s auto makers have had the good sense not to attempt such a greedy and ill-conceived power grab.
Without Net Neutrality, companies like Verizon will be allowed to massively slow your internet speeds any time you access sites that you haven’t paid extra for. Worse still, they’ll be able to block all of their customers’ access to any website that either competes with them or refuses to pay a ransom.
For example, Comcast might decide to severely throttle (slow) or outright block their subscribers’ access to Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video while giving preference to their own streaming video platform. And if Hood River News or some other news organization were to publish an article criticizing any of the major telecom companies, they’d risk losing most of their website traffic and ad revenue, which could lead to a chilling effect on journalists. These are just some examples of the kinds of abuses that will happen if Congress allows Net Neutrality to be repealed.
It is essential that Americans’ access to the internet not be obstructed. That is why I urge you to call Senator Merkley at 202-224-3753 and tell him to save Net Neutrality before it’s too late.
Kris Craig is a self-syndicated columnist and a software engineer who lives in College Place, Wash.