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#NetNeutrality: Where Are We Now?

Demonstrators rally outside the Federal Communications Commission building to protest against the end of net neutrality rules Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
Demonstrators rally outside the Federal Communications Commission building to protest against the end of net neutrality rules Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Although the issue of net neutrality may not be making the headlines as it was earlier this year, the fight for the open internet still continues. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that everything will be OK. We still need legislation that will protect us from prioritized content, bandwidth/data throttling and any other type of scheme broadband providers and internet service providers might try to pull in light of the Federal Communications Commission’s reversal of the net neutrality rules.

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The FCC Has Already Published Its New Rules

On Feb. 22, the FCC published its new rules, published under the misnomer the “Restoring Internet Freedom” order. The publication of the rules in the Federal Register started the 60-day clock for Congress to be able to put a stop to the repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

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While most of the changes are set to go into effect April 23, there were some that required the approval by the Office of Management and Budget of modified data- collection requirements because of the Paperwork Reduction Act.

What Is the OMB Approving Exactly?

Basically, the OMB has to ensure that any new ways the FCC requires broadband providers and ISPs to collect information do not place an undue burden on them.

The data-collection rules are the FCC’s way of making sure that ISPs and broadband providers are transparent about the ways in which they are operating and providing service to their customers. In turn, the Federal Trade Commission will be able to determine if their business practices are unfair, deceptive or anticompetitive, and the Justice Department will be able to determine whether their operations violate antitrust laws

The FCC turned that information over to OMB on March 27, and that submission was published by the Federal Register on March 28.

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The OMB 30-day comment period started on March 28. The public and other federal agencies have the opportunity to comment on the information collection, specifically:

[W]hether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the Commission, including whether the information shall have practical utility; the accuracy of the mission’s burden estimate; ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information collected; ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on the respondents, including the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology; and ways to further reduce the information collection burden on small business concerns with fewer than 25 employees.

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What the FCC’s New Rules Don’t Protect Us From

Even with all these new rules on information gathering and being transparent in the way in which ISPs and broadband companies do business, the FCC’s new rules do not prohibit such firms from blocking content, throttling service or engaging in the practice of paid prioritization for certain content.

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Ultimately, those are the practices we should all be fighting against. Those practices are the most harmful to consumers and go against the very idea of an open and free internet.

You can help. Write Congress. Lawmakers still have time to stop the repeal through the Congressional Review Act. Find out where your state’s representatives stand on the issue, and contact them if they are on the wrong side of it. Talk to your friends and family and get them involved too.

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The fight for net neutrality is a First Amendment fight. It’s a class fight. It’s a race fight.

It’s the people’s fight.

Don’t just stand there. Do something.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.

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DISCUSSION

kaiserkhan
Kaiser Khan

Why is this important to readers of The Root?

Because websites like this one...news and opinion outlets that focus on partisan politics and content for under served Black audiences could easily be targeted by ISPs and hurt through a couple of different methods.

First, the obvious one. An ISP could directly constrict The Root’s ability to serve its web pages to its audience without the end users’ (your) consent. This might mean that pages of The Root could take nine minutes to load. Longer page loads, means less convenience, means more drop off, means less visitors, means less ad revenue, means eventually no more The Root. There are two reasons why an ISP might do this- they want their customers (you) to pay an extra monthly fee for uninhibited access to “specialty news sites” like this one, or their board of directors may simply want to censor news and opinion coverage opposed to their own ideologies.

Second, an ISP could indirectly affect a website like the Root by choking its ability to earn revenue without even affecting the volume of visitors that The Root receives. Websites like this one exist to sell ads. They hire (the best) reporters and writers who develop and publish compelling content...content which attracts an audience of readers (you and me.) Most of these ads are hosted by outside ad networks and not directly by The Root. Theoretically, an ISP could throttle the bandwidth for the ad networks that serve the ads that keep this website in business. Sure, you and I would still get to read content for awhile, but eventually the loss of revenue would break site’s the business model. Why would an ISP do this? Well, they could simply want to censor the Internet as I explained in the first example, or they may want to force companies like The Root into using their preferred ad network, whereby the ISP gets a commission on every ad served. Seems fine, but you need to understand that the advertising department of a site like this one is constantly trying to optimize revenue generation through various fluid relationships with ad networks. A 15% drop in ad revenue due to ISP fees could have catastrophic affects on the business.

If you don’t think that a boardroom of conservative white businessmen could one day decide to burn a site like this to the ground, just look at the history of website’s parent company. After a few years of scheming, a powerful conservative billionaire was able to file lawsuits that devalued the company by hundreds of millions of dollars, forcing it to be sold to Univision in a fire sale. Why did he do this? He was angry that the website outed him.

Ugly, ain’t it?