An Open Internet Is Essential to a Free Internet: Why Net Neutrality Should Matter To Everyone
Right now the FCC is considering a set of rules that would allow Internet providers to offer faster access to some websites that can afford to pay. We need to stop them.
Let’s start with the obvious: The Internet is how we communicate and how we work, learn new things, and find out where to go and how to get there. It keeps us connected to those we love and informed of political events that affect our everyday lives.
At EFF, we have fought for almost 25 years to protect a free and open Internet. We depend on the Internet for everything we do, from our efforts to reform broken copyright laws, to our ongoing battles to end the NSA’s illegal mass surveillance. More fundamentally, we know that the open Internet makes possible not just our activism, but the work of many others around the world.
That’s why we’re fighting tooth and nail to defend a concept known as net neutrality. Net neutrality means that Internet providers should treat all data that travels over their networks equally, rather than slowing down or even blocking access to sites of their choosing.
Good net neutrality rules would forbid Internet providers from discriminating against sites that cannot afford to pay a toll for preferential treatment, or sites that are critical of Internet providers or undermine their business models.
That threat is real. In 2005, for example, Canadian ISP Telus , blocked access to a website that was used to plan actions by the Telecommunications Workers Union during a strike. And in 2007, AT&T deleted Eddy Vedder’s criticism of George W. Bush during a webcasted Pearl Jam concert. Although AT&T was technically acting in the capacity of a content provider, content providers and Internet providers have merged dramatically in the past few years, resulting in the lines becoming uncomfortably blurred. This sort of censorship threatens both innovation and free speech.
Fighting for the Users
Right now the entire architecture of the Internet is under threat. The FCC is about to make a decision that will determine whether or not Internet providers will be allowed to offer faster access to some websites, while leaving others in the slow-lane.
We’re calling on the FCC to do the right thing and not allow for rampant discrimination online. Specifically, we’re telling the FCC that the Internet needs to be treated as part of our essential communications infrastructure, and that means regulating it as such to protect net neutrality.
Net neutrality is central to all of our efforts to protect and defend digital rights. Let’s go through a handful of EFF’s issues to explain how.
The Risk to Privacy Conscious Services
Without net neutrality, Internet providers may interfere with access to privacy protecting services and websites or encrypted traffic. We have the right to encrypt our communications because privacy is a human right and it’s protected in the US Constitution. Yet, in the past we saw Comcast blocking encrypted traffic to BitTorrent. And in Canada, the broadband provider Rogers Hi-Speed Internet blocked and throttled all encrypted file transfers over their network for five years.
Use of encrypted browsing prevents Internet providers from injecting ads into the pages you view and prevents them from logging your activities to sell to marketers, so they have an economic incentive to keep it easy to spy on you. Without net neutrality, there’s no telling what privacy-enabling tools will become unusable at the whim of Internet providers.
An increasing trend in privacy-conscious products is the move to technologies where sensitive data is self hosted, hosted by friends, or resides on an anonymous decentralized network instead of on the servers of a company that law enforcement can easily compel to turn over your data without telling you first.
But many ISPs have rules against people running "servers" at home, prohibiting people from making use of the upstream bandwidth they've paid for. If all bits were treated equally, then it wouldn’t matter whether the traffic originated with a server. In other words, if users pay for their bandwidth, then they should be able to use it however they want.
Without good net neutrality protections, we fear that privacy conscious services will be significantly affected, not only because small companies and free software communities most likely won’t be able to afford fast-lane access, but also because Internet providers may degrade such services for their own business reasons.
Copyright Policing from Internet Providers
Copyright is routinely cited as an excuse for corporate and government censorship of the Internet. When Comcast blocked all encrypted traffic to BitTorrent back in 2007, they claimed it was because BitTorrent was used for copyright infringement – never mind the many non-infringing uses that were also blocked. Good net neutrality rules would prevent that kind of policing from ISPs, as well as unilateral decisions by ISPs to degrade or block access to sites they allege are infringing or promote infringement.
This is a particular concern as more Internet providers expand into content production and distribution. Network discrimination could be used to herd users towards services the ISPs offer, like Verizon’s RedBox, rather than their competitors. Again, good net neutrality rules would not allow Internet providers to direct users to one site over another by speeding up or slowing down online traffic.
Copyright has caused problems for net neutrality before. We’ve seen bad net neutrality rules with giant holes carved out for ISPs to discriminate based on copyright infringement, such as the 2010 Open Internet order. Carve-outs for copyright are antithetical to the principles of net neutrality, and we’re calling on the FCC to create application agnostic, bright line anti-discrimination rules.
Access to Information
Transparency can be a powerful tool. One of our core visions for a more transparent political environment is for government data, court documents and interpretations of the law to be readily accessible online. Access to the law shouldn’t be slower than, say, viewing an entertainment website. But without strong net neutrality rules, Internet providers are likely to offer faster access to some websites while impeding our access to information.
The Future of Our Internet
The open Internet is central to projects of social justice and political change. Our democracy cannot afford network discrimination. Money and the whims of Internet providers shouldn’t determine who is able to speak to whom and at what rate.
Join us as we call on the FCC to do the right thing: treat all traffic that travels over the Internet equally. The Internet is our future. It’s how we communicate, innovate, and organize to better our world. Take action now, before it’s too late.
Visit DearFCC.org to submit your comments to the FCC before the September 15th deadline. It’s our Internet, and we’re going to fight to protect it.