EDITORIAL: Changing the rules at the internet buffet
Let's think of the internet as a buffet with a few different tiers.
You and your internet service provider (ISP) have an agreement: They provide the plate, you fill it with whatever you choose.
Maybe you take a small plate and pack it with prime rib and shrimp. Maybe you take a larger plate and choose all salad and bread. Maybe your all-you-can-eat plate is overflowing with desserts.
That's how the internet has worked since 2015, when the FCC changed the rules to require net neutrality. Your ISP allows you a certain amount of data, and you use that however you like.
However, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, wants to do away with the net neutrality rule, and he wants to do it soon. The FCC is scheduled to vote on the change Dec. 14, and with Republicans in charge, it is likely to pass.
That means the millions of Americans who work, create and play on the internet every day could soon see a big change in their world.
Doing away with net neutrality means ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon could block their customers from using certain websites. ISPs could create fast lanes and slow lanes, making internet-based companies pay extra to have their content load faster, or making consumers pay extra for certain apps or services.
So that small plate would mean you could only have salad and dessert, no shrimp. The larger plate would mean you get to cut to the front of the line, and if they run out of prime rib, that's just too bad for whoever's behind you.
It also means the old companies with the staid green beans and mashed potatoes would push their wares onto your plate first, leaving little space for the new guys with the organic Asian fusion burrito or the handcrafted mango gelato.
Net neutrality leveled the playing field for businesses and consumers by treating ISPs like utility companies. And they are just like utility companies in many ways — many companies, including media companies, need internet service just as much as they need electricity and water.
Pai says the net neutrality rule has slowed investment in broadband service, especially in rural areas. He cites numbers showing less investment in expanding and upgrading internet service over the past two years as proof that the rule is hampering ISPs.
The trouble is, looking at a broader span of time, those numbers don't mean much. If you look back a little bit, you see a huge leap in investment, from $69.4 billion in 2012 to $76.2 billion in 2013, then another bump to $78.4 billion in 2014 before a slight leveling off to $77.9 billion in 2015 and $76 billion in 2016, according to Business Insider.
Americans are speaking out against this change loud and clear, with the FCC receiving 22 million comments urging the commission to leave net neutrality alone.
The only group supporting the change is, naturally, telecommunications companies, the ones who would love to have their leashes removed.
While Comcast denies reports that it plans to create fast and slow lanes for content, the FCC has already shown the AT&T and Verizon have skirted the rules by favoring content from sources they own, according to Fortune.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the FCC, wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times urging people to get call Congress and try to force the commission to hold hearings about this change.
"It’s a lousy idea. And it deserves a heated response from the millions of Americans who work and create online every day," Rosenworcel wrote.
Protesters are planning demonstrations on Dec. 7 outside Verizon stores around the country, including in Baltimore and Philadelphia, to voice their complaints about this change.
You can also call Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and urge them to force hearings on this huge change that will affect everyone who uses the internet for anything.
Let them know that you like your internet buffet just the way it is.