Update: As predicted, the FCC has repealed net neutrality regulations. It remains to be seen how quickly consumers will see changes to internet service following the repeal.
This piece was originally published at 12:45 p.m. on 14th December 2017.
Your online freedom is at stake today. After months of online protests and backlash from major tech companies including Google, Reddit, and Twitter, the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) is ruling on a proposal to end net neutrality. All signs point to the Committee voting in favour of the proposal; its Trump-appointed Chairman, Ajit Pai, has long opposed net neutrality.
Under President Obama, the FCC put net neutrality rules into place in 2015. These rules have given consumers more control online by preventing internet service providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, from favouring content that pays more. Without net neutrality, internet service providers can put apps or companies who pay more and sites into a fast lane — their content will load more quickly and appear on top in feeds, and lower-paying apps and sites into a slow lane. That's why the trending net neutrality hashtag on Twitter shows the spinning wheel you see when you're waiting for a site to load.
Without net neutrality, internet providers would become content managers. Many argue that this will stifle innovation.
“Big content distributors like Netflix can afford to pay for their content to be in the fast lane," says Cheryl Leanza, president of media policy consulting agency A Learned Hand. "But young creators, just starting out, will have another huge barrier between them and their audience. Unless they can pay to be in the Internet’s fast lanes, their content will be harder to see."
You can compare what will happen without net neutrality to the frustrations you might feel when Facebook or Instagram change their algorithm, altering the order with which things appear in your feed.
"Now we all see more paid promotional content and it is much harder for organisations to reach their audience unless they pay to boost a post," Leanza says.
Plus, the online activism that has fuelled the major movements of 2017, including #MeToo, will be less visible.
“All the women who have spoken out saying #metoo will have a harder time getting their voices heard," Leanza says. "The unique, creative content that you discover on your own will be pushed into the margins to make way for commercialised content produced by major networks."
Today's ruling isn't the end. If you want your voice to be heard now — and online in the months and years to come — Leanza advises contacting your Representative and Senator. Battle for the Net has also compiled materials anyone can share on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. If you care about an open internet, now is the time to speak up.