The internet has buzzed with activity in 2017, all thanks to a little thing called Title II. The previously obscure article was used to preserve net neutrality in the United States, making it a public utility that’s required by law to remain open and accessible to everyone. With players like the Trump Administration and Ajit Pai of the FCC, however, Title II has been repealed, putting a death sentence on net neutrality in the U.S. and potentially ushering in an age of internet fast lanes.
- 1 Net Neutrality and the FCC
- 2 What Could Happen Now That Article II Is Repealed?
- 3 Fight for Net Neutrality
- 4 Staying Private with a VPN
- 5 Conclusion
Net Neutrality and the FCC
In the United States, telecommunications carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The agency is nearly a century old and helps maintain laws and practices surrounding radio, television, satellite, cable, cell phone, and internet services along with their associated providers. The FCC exists to ensure fair access and fair competition, though recent net neutrality events make strong argument that’s no longer the case.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that the internet isn’t owned or managed by any one entity. Everyone can access the entirety of the web without barriers, ensuring free and open communication. All data is treated equally under net neutrality, which simply means it doesn’t matter what website you visit or which video you stream, you always get the same service and the same speed.
Without net neutrality laws in place, businesses such as internet service providers (ISPs) are free to set up fast lanes or restrict online activities based on subscription status. If you want to check your e-mail, watch a video, or go on Facebook, for example, you might have to pay the ISP for a premium plan. Data can be monitored and throttled based on deals with other companies, too. If a business doesn’t pay the fast lane price, ISPs will slow their traffic down, causing them to lose customers.
History of Title II
Title II is shorthand for the second section of the Communications Act of 1934, a bill signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the same year. The act created the FCC with the specific purpose of regulating commerce across communication wires and radio signals to ensure all people in the U.S. had access to service at a reasonable price. The law outlines provisions for a variety of scenarios that have been added to over the years. We no longer use telegraphs to send letters back and forth, so the FCC has adapted to fit the modern age.
Title II of the original act was amended in 1996 to classify internet service providers as “common carriers”, a term that means they transport goods and services to the general public, not contract clients of their choosing. Common carriers are regulated by the FCC and required to deliver service to anyone without discrimination. If you sign up with an ISP, for example, you’re guaranteed the same service as anyone in the U.S., no matter how much you use it or what content you download.
In early 2015, the FCC ruled to classify broadband internet access as a telecommunications service, applying the Title II common carrier status to all ISPs. This signed into law internet access in the U.S. as a public utility like electricity or access to water, not an optional luxury item. Lawsuits filed against the FCC claimed the act was an overreach, but the change was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals vote in 2016.
Title II Repeal Process
The 2017 transition to the Trump administration brought in a new FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai. One of the first announcements Pai made was his intent to end the utility-style regulatory approach to the internet and establish it as an information service, not a public utility. This move will allow ISPs to regulate and bill internet access without strict oversight from the FCC, bringing an end to net neutrality in the U.S.
The Obama administration placed into effect regulations that protected net neutrality under the Title II/public utility laws. Those changes were rolled back by the FCC in May 2017, with a final vote to end net neutrality in December of the same year.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Pai claims repealing Title II will increase investment in infrastructure and boost innovation among broadband companies. On the flipside, however, this act could remove or restrict internet access to many Americans and stifle both creativity and competition among smaller businesses.
What Could Happen Now That Article II Is Repealed?
Title II is the key to net neutrality and the non-discrimination of data. With its repeal, net neutrality is effectively ended in the United States. This opens the door for all kinds of strict ISP-imposed regulations and money-grabbing schemes, practically none of which benefit end users, only the large companies that provide internet service. The web as you know it will be gone.
Say Hello to Internet Fast Lanes
One of the most frightening aspects of Title II’s repeal is allowing ISPs to directly control how fast you can access parts of the web. Paid prioritization plans affect both businesses and consumers by setting up two different “types” of internet access: fast and slow. If a company doesn’t pay for the fast lane, the ISP artificially slows down access to their site. For companies that deliver a large amount of speed-sensitive data like Netflix and Hulu, paying for fast lanes is essential to stay in business. After all, nobody will use a slow streaming service, no matter how good the content.
On the consumer side of things, fast lanes will likely come in the form of tiered data plans. Basic internet access would be artificially slowed to a crawl. Want to access websites at higher speeds? Pay for the upgrade. Want to access sites that have entered the fast lane? That’s another upgrade. ISPs can even remove popular destinations from basic internet services and sell them as new plans. Imagine not being able to access Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, YouTube, or Netflix unless you purchase separate upgrades for each service. Now that Title II has been repealed, very little stands in the way of measures like this appearing on ISP sign-up pages.
Small Businesses Will Struggle
Related to the fast lanes concept above, small businesses and startups will face new, often impossible hurdles to reaching an online audience. Research has shown slow sites face as much as an 11% reduction in traffic and a 15-17% loss in customer engagement. No one will wait for a site in the slow lane to load in their browser, they’ll simply click away to a bigger, richer site that can afford to broadcast in the fast lane. More and more businesses will start shifting their focus from innovative products to models that cope with ISP restrictions. This can kill creativity and lead to an internet that exists to fuel the telecommunications industry, not enrich the users’ lives.
The Door Opens for Censorship
Looking to the future, Title II’s demise gives a lot of power to ISPs. Fast lanes and paid package upgrades are only the beginning. One of the biggest fears is that censorship will become commonplace in the U.S. Even if some objectionable site pays for fast access, what if they compete with an ISP’s partner company? All it takes is a few lines of code and they disappear from everyone’s internet, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Title II’s Affect on the World
The Title II repeal directly affects citizens of the U.S., but the rest of the world may notice changes, too. As the laws are changed in favor of ISPs, other governments may use this as a template for their own anti-net neutrality regulations. A large portion of the businesses with a strong presence on the internet are also based in the U.S., including Google, Netflix, Hulu, Twitter, and Facebook. Losing net neutrality may affect how they operate, and if you’re a foreign company trying to compete with them, you’ll have an extremely difficult time paying ISP fees to gain a foothold with U.S. customers.
Fight for Net Neutrality
The net neutrality fight has gone on in several countries at various times over the last decade. Most places won the struggle, including in the U.S. the last time net neutrality was under threat. Though Title II is dead in the water, preserving a free and open internet is still a worthwhile cause. It will require a little effort from a lot of people, however. Protests, site shutdowns, petitions, and letter writing campaigns have all helped our voices get heard.
Most of the decisions surrounding the Title II repeal have come from congress members across the United States. These people are elected to represent the people, not their own interests or the interests of corporations. To that end, each congressman is available for correspondence through e-mail, phone, snail mail letters, and often social media.
BattleForTheNet is the central hub of fighting the Title II repeal and preserving net neutrality. Here you’ll find all the tools you need to locate your representative and get in touch to share your opinion. Though the recent FCC ruling is discouraging, congress can still vote to preserve net neutrality, so keep putting pressure on your representatives!
Vote with Intent
The U.S. is a democracy with officials elected by the people. Voting is an important part of this process, as it gives everyone a voice in how things are managed. Voting may not save net neutrality this time around, but ensuring well-informed, pro-net neutrality representatives populate government offices is the best way to keep it alive well into the future. Find out when the next elections are in your state, research the candidates, and cast your vote for the right person for the job.
Break the Internet
If Ajit Pai and the FCC are trying to break the internet, why don’t we do it for them? A movement supported by BattleForTheNet encourages people to share images and scripts on social media and their websites to raise awareness of the fight for net neutrality. Though the FCC has already passed their resolution to repeal Title II, congress can still intervene by way of the Congressional Review Act. If you want to help get the word out to beat the apathy that might otherwise spread like wildfire after such a high-profile loss for net neutrality, head to the Break the Internet website.
Support Net Neutrality Organizations
For every greedy ISP and corporate shill in the world, there’s an organization dedicated to undoing their damage. In the case of Title II and net neutrality, these include groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Save the Internet work to protect digital freedoms even when they aren’t under immediate threat. Supporting them with donations or outreach efforts is a great way to make a real difference.
Staying Private with a VPN
The Title II repeal and subsequent loss of net neutrality will have a dramatic affect on how the internet works, and not just in the United States, either. Some of the drawbacks to ISP-controlled access can be mitigated with the right tools, however, the most prominent of which are virtual private networks. VPNs help mask your identity by encrypting data before it leaves your device. Even if most throttling or censorship methods are in place, with encrypted data it’s impossible for an ISP to tell what you’re trying to access.
Choosing the right VPN can feel like an impossible task, especially if you’re new to the world of online privacy and cryptography. We’ve simplified the process by providing a few recommended services below. Each one is fast, easy to use, and incredibly reliable, allowing you to keep your identity safe and your data private no matter what.
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The Title II repeal means the beginning of the end of net neutrality in the United States. It’s a dire situation that has brought people on the internet together to fight for what matters. Support the right organizations, let your voice be heard, then sound off in the comments below to let everyone know what they can do to help.