In advance of the December 14 hearing to decide the fate of Net Neutrality, a couple dozen Santa Barbarans rallied to keep the internet accessible to all on a Thursday noontime filled with smoke from the Thomas Fire. They gathered before the Verizon store on State Street, a symbol of the corporations interested in privatizing the internet and whose former corporate attorney, Ajit Pai, now heads the Federal Communications Commission.
“The air quality was so bad that a police van canvassing State Street gave us free face masks,” organizer Michal Lynch said. “Many stores in Paseo Nuevo mall were closed ‘due to poor air quality,’ but Verizon was open, and we held up signs in front of it.” The group distributed literature on how to contact the FCC to send a public comment, “which is not easy to do!” Lynch remarked.
At stake is the Trump administration’s decision to change the rules governing the internet. In its infancy, when a user could watch his fingernails grow while waiting for a file to download, internet speed regulation was not an issue. With the ubiquity of the internet in everyday life and increased file sizes from spectacular graphics on websites, download speed is what keeps consumer eyes glued to the screen. According to Ars Technica, the new FCC proposal repeals the ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritizing, and states internet service providers must disclose such behavior. The disclosure, the FCC rationalizes, protects the consumer. The internet provider would also have to disclose if it gave its own content priority, how it managed congestion, and any limitations it put on specific applications or devices.
Social justice advocates worry that as internet providers branch into fields that provide content such as films or information such as political candidate campaigning, corporations could deliberately speed or slow internet access to sway the user. Computer users famously click off if something takes too long to download.
While defenders of the status quo offer arguments of freedom of speech and internet equality, proponents of gutting net neutrality state the Obama administration’s heavy-handed regulations suppressed what had been growing broadband investments and unleashed bandwidth hogs. The issue has sparked a record 22 million comments to the FCC.