If You Use the Internet, Make Your Voice Heard


The following was published as yesterday’s Tech Talk column in Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

Net Neutrality is in danger of being rolled back and if you use the internet, especially for work, you must make your voice heard on this important issue. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be voting to roll back Net Neutrality Thursday, Dec. 14, so the time to speak out is now. So you understand what is at stake, let me first provide the background.

Net Neutrality is a term that is often used to refer to FCC rules that guarantee open access to broadband Internet services. In simple terms, this means anyone is able to purchase internet access from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in their area and that ISP must supply this access equally to all consumers, individual or commercial. Once you have that internet access, Net Neutrality rules further state that the ISP is not allowed to limit or block your access to content on the internet in any way.

So, let’s look at some potential real-life scenarios where Net Neutrality is critically important to both consumers and businesses. In the greater Seacoast, we know Comcast is the major provider of residential and business internet access. We also know that just south of the New Hampshire border, in many Massachusetts communities, Verizon is also a major provider of internet access. While in the city of Portsmouth, there really is no competition for internet access for residential customers, there is competition for commercial customers. In many Massachusetts communities, Comcast and Verizon compete for both. This competition is a good thing, though it remains restricted in many communities due to outdated franchise systems that limit competition. That’s the situation we face for the individual consumer here in Portsmouth, for example.

So while Net Neutrality is supposed to ensure open access to the internet, it does not address true competition for that access where local franchise agreements are in place between municipalities and providers. This dates back to the early organizations that brought cable TV and internet to local communities. They needed exclusive franchises to ensure they would have the long-term revenue required to recoup the massive infrastructure investments needed to bring these services to the communities they serve. That time has passed and more competition is necessary now, more than ever.

But where Net Neutrality really comes in to play is in the guarantee that access to online content not be in any way limited or outright blocked. Consider this scenario. Comcast owns NBC. NBC, as we all know, is a major media network and delivers a host of content online. Verizon owns Yahoo and as we know, Yahoo is a large provider of free email and search services. The current Net Neutrality rules guarantee that if either Comcast or Verizon is your ISP, they cannot restrict your access to online services provided by the other. Now let’s consider what the reality may be if Net Neutrality is reversed by the FCC on Dec. 14. Let’s say Comcast is your ISP in the Seacoast. Instead of pricing its internet service based on the speed you want, which is how it works today, it has access tiers. Let’s say for $29.99 a month, you can get internet access from Comcast. However, that pricing tier does not allow you access to Yahoo.com or any of its services. If you want access to Yahoo.com and all that it offers, you have to subscribe to a more expensive tier of service. That service could cost double, triple or more the cost of the basic tier. This is a fictitious example today, but could become reality after Dec. 14 if the FCC rolls back Net Neutrality protections.

This is not a good thing. People unable to afford an unrestricted tier of internet access could be faced with subscribing to levels of service that provide internet access, but not full and unrestricted access. The ISP they get their internet access from could make decisions about what content they have access to. The implications of this are profound. Just look at what happened with the 2016 elections and what we now know about targeted ads that were purchased by foreign actors to influence the vote in certain areas of the country. Now think about the implications if content is only made available to certain audiences based on their ISP and what they can afford for service. It could be disastrous. An entire generation or generations could grow up thinking they have free and unfettered access to the online world, when in fact they do not. It’s a fundamental right that must be preserved.

Fortunately, a group of like-minded organizations has put together a website where you can contact your members of Congress and ask them to implore the FCC to maintain Net Neutrality. The website is www.battleforthenet.com and I encourage you to visit the site and take action. I have also published a number of posts about this issue on my blog at mjshoer.com and I encourage you to read those as well. I have a link to an op-ed written by Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel about this that is quite compelling. But first, take action, visit www.battleforthenet.com and educate yourself more about this issue. They have some great links and videos that make this issue easy to grasp. Consider this a call to maintain free speech online. This is one of the most important issues of our time and I hope you will join me in encouraging the FCC to maintain Net Neutrality.

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