In an open letter published earlier this week and intended for U.S. communications regulators, over 130 YouTube stars speak up for Net Neutrality.
That is to say people making a living on the internet warn the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) they will fight to keep the internet fair and open in America and out from under the thumb of the major telecommunications companies.
“The internet is essential infrastructure for our economy and culture. It has ushered in an unprecedented era of freedom for communication,” explains the YouTube creators’ letter. “And thanks to strong net neutrality rules, users have been in the driver’s seat of choosing what is successful online, without interference from government or Internet service provider (ISP) gatekeepers.
“Unfortunately, the FCC’s current plan to roll-back the 2015 Open Internet Order directly attacks these liberties, and gives (the major telecommunications companies) new top-down controls over how our creations are distributed.”
Net Neutrality is the phrase used to describe an internet to which all users have a fair and equal, if not necessarily free, access. Eliminating the Net Neutrality rules will mean the major telcoms such as Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and others will have virtual and unfettered control of the internet in America.
The concept of Net Neutrality in the U.S. is based on rulings by the FCC which establish the internet as a public utility and, therefore, subject to government regulation just like other public utilities like the telephone, electricity service, water service, interstate trucking and others.
The last day for public comment on the FCC’s plans to dismantle Net Neutrality is August 17.
A broad coalition of fair and open internet supporters are coming together July 12 for a mass action in support of Net Neutrality. You can join the mass action here.
“Net Neutrality has been crucial to maintaining a level playing field for all creators – from those with tens of millions of subscribers to those with 12 subscribers,” point out the YouTube creators. “Content from all is served equally and this ensures an equal opportunity for success to anyone wishing to enter the market. Independent creators such as ourselves would be greatly disadvantaged by the removal of (public utility) protections and the inevitable creation of fast lanes that would privilege the large media companies that can afford to pay for such service.”
Technically and in bureaucratic, government language the FCC rule established the major telcoms – internet service providers or ISPs – as “common carriers.”
A common carrier, as defined by the FCC, is any company or entity which provides a telecommunications service to the general public. A contract carrier, on the other hand, provides service to a select number of clients or customers. The Telecommunications Act of 1934 specifically classified the telephone companies, for example, as common carriers. (This may be shocking to some of you but the internet did not exist in 1934.)
Outside the telecommunications industry, airlines and bus companies are considered common carriers. Oil and natural gas pipelines are common carriers. Public utilities – electrical companies and water companies – are common carriers.
Common carriers are those companies and entities which provide a service for the common benefit of the general public. They certainly are entitled to earn revenue in return for their service but the U.S. government regulates how much common carriers can charge the public as a safeguard against price gouging or other public exploitation. It’s a sound, decent, fair system.
When President Obama finally issued in 2014 his position on net neutrality he said exactly what many advocates for a fair and open internet in the U.S. have been advocating for years: ISPs should be classified as common carriers.
“Simply put: No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee,” said Obama at the time. “That kind of gate keeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.”
The major ISPs have long fought for the opportunity to charge higher prices for higher Internet speeds; to, in essence, create fast lanes and set up tolls booths if consumers want better internet service. The U.S. is the only nation in the world where such a debate is even being considered. The government of most of the world’s nations long ago stepped in to require ISPs to provide Internet at the fastest speeds available. (Brazil adopted an Internet Bill of Rights, guaranteeing every citizen free and unfettered access to the internet – as well as the right to data privacy.)
In fact and simple best-interests-of-all-internet-users, treating the ISPs as common carrier is the only way to ensure the internet using public won’t be exploited and internet fast lanes won’t be created for the rich at the expense of the public and the greater good. The Internet is a public utility.