Tuesday November 21, 2017

Net neutrality repeal will let big companies control what people do online: FCC commissioner

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says net neutrality laws protect consumers from companies overstepping their bounds.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says net neutrality laws protect consumers from companies overstepping their bounds. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

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Story transcript

If the U.S. Federal Communications Commission repeals its net neutrality laws, corporations will have unprecedented power to control what Americans see and do online, warns Jessica Rosenworcel.

Rosenworcel is one of two Democrats on the five-person commission, which will vote on Dec. 14 on whether to rescind a landmark 2015 order that barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing down consumer access to web content.

FCC chief Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump, says the move would allow "companies of all kinds in every sector compete and let consumers decide who wins and loses."

But Rosenworcel told As It Happens host Carol Off that killing net neutrality will crush freedom and competition, not foster it. Here's part of that conversation.

Why should people care? 

We have this dynamic engine of civic and commercial opportunity that we all tap into every day in all sort of ways and it is built on a foundation of openness. That openness is what net neutrality is all about. And if we decided to tear at that openness and change our policies, we're going to change the internet as we know and experience it today.

Net Neutrality Bracing For A Fight

FCC chair Ajit Pai says net neutrality laws are 'heavy handed' and stifle competition. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

What will change if net neutrality regulations are changed in this way?

Right now you can go where you want and do what you want online without your broadband provider telling you, "Yes, you can go to this site. No, you can't go to this one."

And that's important. It puts you in control. Your broadband provider doesn't have the right to choose which voices to amplify, which ones to censor online and which connections you can and cannot make.

But if we change our network neutrality policies, we are giving broadband providers the green light to carve the internet into slow and fast lanes, to choose which voices to feature and to choose what content you can reach when you go online every day.

Can you give us any concrete examples?

Right now our policies prevent the blocking of sites online. In other words, your broadband provider can't decide to block some sites online because perhaps that company doesn't have a commercial relationship with them. And if these new policies go in place, our broadband providers will be able to block online activity and online sites.

But to what end? Why would they want to do that?

I think that they would want to see if they could earn income not just from you as a consumer when you pay for your broadband subscription, but I think that they'd also like to set up the opportunity for revenue from sites and activities online and see if they can get paid in both directions. And then they'll slow the service of those that don't choose to pay up.

I'm thinking of Verizon, which owns Yahoo. Would they be able to say: Let's not let Google get there faster than Yahoo, because that's of benefit to our company?

Right. What we have right now is a policy that you have to treat all traffic equally no matter who created it or where it came from. But after net neutrality policies go away, they'll have the ability to favour their own content or favour those with whom they have business relationships.

Why do you think that the Federal Communications Commission wants to do this?

I can't tell you what is the head of my colleagues here. I think they just want to roll back a lot of rules that were put in place during the last administration. And I think that's foolhardy because outside of Washington, D.C., there aren't a lot of people who are sitting and clamouring for the agency to take away the internet openness that they experience today.

Ajit Pai, the chair of the FCC, this is a statement from him. He said that: "The Obama era rules imposed heavy-handed utility style regulations upon the internet. That decision was mistake. It's depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation." 

I'm going to dispute some of his facts there. I think there are other studies that show that since those rules were put into place, we've seen increased investment, not just in the infrastructure that's behind broadband, but also in the broader internet economy. Because these rules are so fundamental for so many small business that use online action to reach out to customers not just around the corner, but around the world.