Wednesday, November 22, 2017

#SaveNetNeutrality Gamers, We Need You Now More Then Ever

Okay dudes. We need to ramp the noise up to 11 again. The FCC, despite receiving over 22 million comments on Net Neutrality (this was even after the FCC changed the commenting system 3 times) with an overwhelming majority in favor of keeping it, still plans to remove it.

Note: If you don't want to read the full post but would like info on how to save Net Neutrality, scroll to the bottom for the links.

The FCC is disregarding the 10's of millions of US citizens that are actively against this measure. There was a person or a group that created a bot that posted anti-Net Neutrality (which is funny because after Net Neutrality is lifted they might not be able to do that ever again) messages that all contained the same phrasing, but that didn't drown out the millions of comments that were in favor of keeping the rules. (By the way, the FCC refuses to investigate the matter, even though spamming/creating false identities for a government entity is illegal.)

The timing of this is also very astute. Usually announcements of this level are made during less-busy weekdays to ensure the largest audience receives the news. Instead the FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who I'm now referring to as douche-Pai after his actions this week, decided that Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to tell everyone to go screw off. He still plans to have the FCC vote to remove Net Neutrality. The hope is that with it being a holiday week, people are less likely to be active in contacting their senators, state representatives, and the FCC because they are too focused on Thanksgiving.

22 million comments are being ignored by the FCC. The comments that they are focusing on are those of Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. The telecommunication companies may win and can dismantle the internet that we know today.

For those who don't know, Net Neutrality is the Internet's guiding principle in the U.S. It preserves our right to communicate online, freely. We are not to be hampered by ISP's. We are allowed to search, surf, and seek out any and all information that exists online without any deterrents. Under Net Neutrality ISP's can't block websites. ISP's can't control the flow of information, nor can they control the speed of sites. If you purchased a 10 gigabyte plan, then all of the content needs to be connected to you at 10 gigabytes. Net Neutrality ensures that everyone has equal access to everyone on the internet once you're online.

Pre-Net Neutrality, ISP's were constantly bumping heads with consumers and the FCC. But there has always been an underlying Net Neutrality rule that kept ISP's in check.

Before I go off into a rant on why ending Net Neutrality is bad, let's look at douche-Pai's statement this week on what the roll-back means. Net Neutrality, he believes, will help restore "internet freedom." A new plan will be introduced that would prevent the government from micro-managing the internet. It sounds fine in a speech, but that's not what the plan does. Instead it gives a basic framework for which ISP's should follow. If there are any disputes or concerns, they will now be handled by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and not the FCC. The plan expects ISP's to be transparent with their practices, but does not require them to report in on changes to their policies or pricing plans. I.E. the plan is based on the word of the ISP's. Everything is being done "in good faith" that the ISP's will do the right thing. And to top it off, states can not pass any laws that would override the FCC's plan. So Minnesota, for example, wouldn't be allowed to compose their own Net Neutrality rules. The FCC and ISP's would have legal carte blanche.

I may not be completely business-minded, but that sounds like a really bad plan. Assuming that the ISP's are going to play fair is dumb. We need regulation to ensure that they don't overcharge and limit services to customers. If you need an example, let's say I went to a car dealership to buy a Jaguar but I didn't have the down payment available. The dealership isn't going to let me drive off the lot right then and there if I give them an IOU paper. They want their down payment. Your ISP is trying to get by with the IOU to the FCC with this new "plan."

To assume that the ISP's will keep their word, well you're just silly. AT&T and Verizon were slapped earlier this year by providing better connection to their video streaming services and not others. In 2014, Verizon wanted to charge gamers more money for using the internet. Thankfully, Net Neutrality was put in place in 2015 to stop Verizon. The telecomm industry is there to make money. Given the chance, they will nickle and dime you like the airlines. We know how bad our cable providers are right now. Imagine how much worse it'll be when they have free reign to do whatever they want.

Google, Facebook, Amazon are all in support of Net Neutrality. Thousands of online businesses, software developers, and browsers want to keep Net Neutrality in place. Without an open internet, they wouldn't be the businesses that they are today. The only group that seem to be in favor of ending Net Neutrality are ISP's, as they gain the most from the change.

So what would happen in a post-Net Neutrality world?

AT&T and Comcast could start blocking streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon Prime in favor of their own video on demand content. And they could do it almost immediately after the vote passes. AT&T would push people to use their DirectTV system instead, which would provide "faster" viewing.

AT&T can also decide that your search engine of choice will be Yahoo. Why? Because they own a stake in the company. So if you need to search for something online, they could easily restrict access to Google and Bing, or cause the websites to load so slow that you have to go to Yahoo. This ensures that Yahoo receives more ad revenue by you visiting that site, and ultimately AT&T will make more money from it.

And that whole "Verzion wants to charge gamers more money to play games online" thing? Yeah that could actually happen if Net Neutrality ends. We may see our monthly prices skyrocket for ISP's to "accommodate" our gaming habits. For a number of us already in a daily fight with our ISP's, this could be an exasperating task. Imagine not being able to play Overwatch on any console because your ISP is actively restricting your online use until you pay more money. You already have a 10 gig limit, but the ISP doesn't have to distribute it fairly.

Got an online business? Cool! If you want people to be able to visit your website you may have to pay the ISP's to ensure they don't block you. Yep. ISP's could start charging premiums to businesses like Google, Amazon, Etsy, ThinkGeek, even your favorite online t-shirt shop - all so they can be "allowed" access on their network. Verizon may charge thousands a year for that t-shirt shop to be visible on their services. While Google can foot their bill, the smaller shops can't. I'm a big fan of online shopping, particularly with fabric and crafting stores because they offer a lot of niche items I won't find at traditional retailers. With Net Neutrality ending, those shops can and will lose business unless they pay the ISP's for visibility. If you have Comcast and try to visit TeeTurtle.com, Comcast could block the site for not paying their "service" fee. No more cool geeky shirts for you. Your ISP has blocked them.

Even better, if the websites do pay the ISP's premium fees, the ISP can still block off access to those until you, the consumer, pay more. AT&T may decide to set up a "social media" add-on to your internet services. To gain access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter you would have to pay a monthly fee. Don't believe me? Portugal has no Net Neutrality and customers continually see packages like this one from their ISP's. Wanna access your e-mail? That'll be 4.99 Euro a month.

Yeah. You can't even access GMail in Portugal without paying extra. E-mail is a basic necessity in today's world. To revoke access is akin to removing all contact from the world.

It sounds crazy, but given the history of these ISP's this is a very plausible future. While the FCC has always had some form of Net Neutrality to prevent ISP's from abusing their power, douche-Pai wants to end it entirely. Including the underlying rules.

For those who argue that removing Net Neutrality would help the free market - the telecommunication industry is far from a free market. Most areas of the country you are fortunate if you have a choice in cable/internet providers. If you live in an apartment or a condo, you probably have 1 option and that's your only option. Telecomm companies work hard to ensure that no other businesses encroach on their territory and sometimes work out special deals with apartments, blocks, even cities to be the only vendor of digital services. By not playing ball with the ISP's, one can lose their lifeline to the outside world. Given how prevalent the internet is in our day to day life, that's not an option.

Bottom line: If you enjoy cat videos, buying from Amazon, and checking your e-mail, then we need to save Net Neutrality. This isn't a political issue. This isn't a Republican vs. Democrat situation. This is about a basic necessity of life that everyone should have fair and equal access to.

The internet was developed with the intent to provide open communication to all without any disruptions. It allows ideas to be shared freely. It allows those who don't have access to expensive schools to gain knowledge where money use to be a barrier. Without the internet as it is now, we wouldn't have Twitch! Net Neutrality made the internet what it is today; a weird and wonderful place. We need to save it.

Gamers, we can do some amazing things when we work as a team. With all the crap that went down with EA and Star Wars: Battlefront II these past weeks, it wouldn't have happened if we didn't band together. We can save Net Neutrality if we become the dream team once more.

Voting day for the FCC is December 14th. Call, write, fax, and act every day to ensure your politicians are listening. We need to keep pushing. Enough of us yell to keep it, they can't ignore it. Congress can still stop it, but you have to be active in contacting your state reps to ensure it happens. Here are a few places to get started:

- Resist Bot - A texting and now FB Messaging service that will find your state representatives and will fax/e-mail/mail them with your message. Government officials are all required to maintain an open box for mailing and faxing and must respond to each one. Resist Bot takes out most of the leg work. Very easy to use, and can issue you a daily reminder to contact your reps!

- Battle For The Net - A good multi-resource site that also provides you with direct numbers for congress and your state reps.

- Free Press - Add your name to the growing list of the letter being sent by the Free Press directly to all senators, state reps, and the FCC.

- Mozilla Advocacy - Similar to Free Press, but the Mozilla version.

- Electronic Frontier Foundation - An easy way to e-mail your congress rep. Note that this doesn't work in all states. Texas, for example, doesn't require an e-mail to be active nor for reps to use/respond to them. But it is much faster then other methods if your state rep has one.

Keep fighting to save the internet before we lose it for good.

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