Note: this is a copy of a letter I have sent to various newspapers in Washington State. Representatives are often more likely to hear opinions of their constituents when written in a Letter to the Editor in their district, especially if it mentions them by name, than they are to hear the opinion of someone who calls or emails them. I have however, sent a slightly edited copy to each Representative listed here. If you are concerned about letting your Internet Service Provider decide what you can and cannot do on the internet, and you should be, you should be sending similar letters. Don’t let them get away with this!
Citizens of Washington, Representative Beutler, Senators Cantwell and Murray:
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, recently announced plans which would put the neutrality of the internet to bed and lay the groundwork for a future where the internet is run like television, with your only reliable access being to sites that have the money to pay for the best connection. Wheeler’s plan to go along with Verizon’s version of the internet, where ISPs can charge extra fees to websites to insure the fastest and most reliable speeds, is a threat to freedom of speech and information.
It’s a future where Comcast could open their own version of Netflix, charge whatever they want, put only shows they want, and prevent Netflix from being a viable option to their internet users. A user would be faced with a choice of low-quality, stuttering streams on Netflix, or high-quality streams run by Comcast, at a steeper price.
It is a future where Centurylink could decide they didn’t like a news story that was critical of their services, so they throttle the speeds coming from that news company’s websites, making it impractical for their users to see the critical stories.
It is a world where Microsoft could pay Verizon to give preferential treatment to Bing, thus forcing users to switch from Google if they want fast search results.
It is a world where start-ups like Netflix once was, or Facebook, or Spotify, wouldn’t have the money or power to compete with existing services, and they would simply die out, discarded like a Starbucks cup on the side of the information superhighway.
In short: it is a world where Comcast, Verizon, Time-Warner, Centurylink, and other ISPs get to decide what you, the paying customer, can do on the internet.
What if those rules were applied to phone service? A subscriber of Verizon decides to call AT&T to see about switching services. Verizon recognizes the number and purposefully degrades the call so they can’t understand the customer service representative. AT&T is having a dispute with your parents over hidden fees. To try to force the issue, they degrade your parents’ phone service until they can’t call you or even 911.
It is for these reasons, and more, that the FCC classified telephone companies as “common carriers” – preventing companies from practicing discrimination in fees or services. There was a push for the FCC to do the same with ISPs. For a while, it looked like it could happen. Then Verizon and other companies took the FCC to court and their lawyers won, forcing the FCC’s hand. Wheeler’s response was to avoid a fight, avoid doing his job, and give in.
People, Representatives, I urge you to fight back against Wheeler’s apathy and push towards classifying ISPs as common carriers. The internet has become as much a part of daily life as the telephone, the highways, electricity, and water.
And citizens, don’t wait for someone else. Stand up and let your voice be heard before they throttle your service to keep you quiet.