What is the Open Internet and it’s new Preservation Act?

Our internet experience is evolving, as all things do.  We now have sophisticated algorithms which determine what we will see when we do a Google search.  I run to the store and come home to ads on my Facebook for the products I just bought.  I get a “free quote” for car insurance and receive letters two days later from multiple companies seeking to entice me with lower rates than their competitors.  My life, my clicks, my searches – it’s all an open book.  The algorithms are always watching, always calculating.  Things are being selected, hand-picked, personalized to what the algorithm believes to be my preferences.

I was concerned about the loss of net neutrality late in 2017 with the new Chairman Ajit Pai attacking anew the Open Internet bill he failed to defeat in 2015.  I felt that as a digital citizen, I should uphold equal internet access for all, which net neutrality provided.  But it was voted down, and now we have the Open Internet Preservation Act and the “reassurance” that this republican backed bill will continue to protect both the wired and wireless internet and the power it holds to deliver information.

They stress that the internet must remain open and free of being toyed with and tinkered with by the broadband companies, although these do possess the power and the financial motivation to do so.  Slowing or blocking the internet for clients unwilling or unable to pay more could ruin the level playing field that the internet has traditionally provided for commerce.

As disconcerting as it may be, they already know the sites that I frequent, the searches I make, and they sell this information to those who pay, hoping to benefit from my online “window shopping”.  Net neutrality required that all internet traffic be treated equally.  However now, what would be stopping them from starting to charge me more to use the sites I like, and channeling my searches – through faster or slower routes – to the sites that pay them the most?

With the absence of former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and the voting down of net neutrality, there is an important protection which has been lost: paid prioritization.  Broadband companies can now accept money to speed up various sites.  While they are not allowed to deliberately slow down sites they may not gain from, they can certainly provide greater speed to those who agree to pay more, creating unfair “fast lanes” for the wealthiest and largest companies.

However, with companies actually paying for the amount of bandwidth they use, we might begin to see improvements in the infrastructure.  The added income could fund upgrades like advanced fiber networks or extend the services to more remote parts of the country, proving that there may be some gains to be had by the consumer.

In 2015, the FCC dictated that the large broadband internet providers were NOT to unreasonably interfere with or disadvantage the ability of users on the web.   Thankfully, H.R. 4682 will continue to ban blocking and throttling by the large broadband companies, who might be tempted to control what the user can do, where they can go and how fast they can access certain services and sites.  Information is power, and the broadband companies today control the flow and access of this coveted resource.

While it is disquieting that some of the protections of the fair and open internet are being whittled down, my hope is that this new Open Internet Preservation Act will be able to enforce the ideals of the bill and mitigate the paid prioritization, allowing for faster flow to the high usage sites without compromising new innovators and commerce.

A few sites you can check out:

GovTracks: Summary of H.R. 4682

H.R. 4682: Open Internet Preservation Act

Blackburn, M. (2017, December 22). Text – H.R.4682 – 115th Congress (2017-2018): Open Internet Preservation Act. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/4682/text