The FCC and the Battle for the Modern Internet

Today, Chairman Ajit Pai of the FCC, flouting a majority of the U.S. public that has been surveyed time and again as being against the decision, and disregarding the dissenting opinions of two of his own boardmembers, announced that Net Neutrality is officially dead.

Take a breath. Take a drink. Let it out. I’ll wait.

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You back? Good. Because first of all, let me just say: I know this hurts. We just watched three men snicker and condescend to two women and a host of data, history, and opinions while voting to gut the Internet as we know it. Second, and most importantly: this is not over. Not for a minute. This was a major battle, don’t get me wrong, but we knew we were going to lose here. Pai has ever been a friend to the corporations of the world, and makes no qualms that whatever they want, he thinks is for the best.

What Comes Next

This decision is going to be tied up in courts for months, if not years. In the state of Washington, they have already said that regardless of a federal decision like this, they will be doing everything they can to maintain Net Neutrality for their own people. There’s going to be a splintering, and further court cases, as sides assault every linked issue. It’s going to get messy. The knives are coming out. And we’ve all got skin in the game–so we’ve got to get dirty.

web17-fcc-1160x768“Innovation and investment” are the bywords Mr. Pai has used as his rallying cry. It’s fairly transparent. What he means and what he wants is a world where, at a whim, companies can decide you’re going to need to pay extra cash for every little service. It’s like if EA suddenly were given world power: you can still play, but by god, you’re going to need to pay for every little service and every little upgrade. It’s life as DLC.

What his side wants, under the auspices of “innovation,” is for cash flow potential for corporations to be unrestricted. They don’t care about innovation–they don’t have to innovate or get better when they already reap the benefits of forcing you to use whatever they give you. And where their rivalries and internal hatreds emerge, is where you’ll really notice some nastiness. Do you like Netflix, for example? Comcast never did. Do you like Streams, such as Twitch? They gobble a lot of data, you know. ISPs don’t like that. So what if your ISP decides they, or any individual site or service, go against their values? Don’t align with them? Say farewell to that service. And further–there will be nothing you can do. Because the Internet isn’t neutral anymore. It isn’t protected ground. It’s full on PvP–and you’re level one, while the fellow you’re dueling has all the top tier gear and skills. There’s no appeal.

Like Netflix? Streams? Any of that good stuff? Well, what if your ISP decides they, or any individual site or service, go against the values? Bye-bye service. Nothing you can do. No appeals. Because they will have that power with no Net Neutrality. The Obama administration put the rules in place specifically to avoid motions toward that end.

I’m not saying these extortion demands erupt tomorrow. Even these companies, greedy as they are and giddy with victory, have PR teams. They recognize the rage going on over this issue. Like most things, the plan will be: wait a little while until the heat dies down, then gradually implement. It is something that can happen. Most likely, it’s going to look like modern cable packages: Premium speeds versus Lower speeds, with more paid for faster Youtube, Snapchat, etc. services. Sites like Wikipedia may have to do EVEN MORE  fundraisers to meet cost demands raised by these ISPs.

Ongoing Battle

Congress has the power to reverse the FCC’s decision to dismantle net neutrality protections. Unlike Ajit Pai–who was not elected and publicly has stated his lack of care for backlash over Net Neutrality repeal–politicians do have to worry about elections. They can be influenced. Many have taken lots of money from ISPs over the years, but they still have to worry about getting their seat back next election. A lot of those seats are coming up for re-election in 2018.

The trick is to make sure they know that. And feel it. Hell, did you see how quickly Patreon backed off its updated pay model when people launched into an uproar? Make them backpedal that quickly.

You see, the Congressional Review Act is almost assuredly going to be tapped to try and review and ultimately reverse the FCC action by those opposed. Get enough members signing on in the 60 legislative days available–the CRA allows Congress to reverse regulatory actions within 60 days of their creation–and Ajit Pai could find his ambitions dead in the water.

What they cannot be allowed to do is run out the clock.

If that fails? There remain the courts and the state level–and we would have to fight in every state, and in a constant, unrelenting force through the courts. The latter gets dicier, however, as the Trump administration continues pushing forward more of its rather controversial nominees for those roles.

I tack on the bad to let you know the stakes and realities: the fact remains the same as that with which I began this piece. The fight is not over. Far from it. Settle into the trenches. Get your jams queued up. It’s going to be a long night.

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