Episode 5 is now available, so grab your favorite adult beverage and give it a listen on your favorite podcast app!
Episode 5 is now available, so grab your favorite adult beverage and give it a listen on your favorite podcast app!
On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, the House introduced the “Save the Internet Act” to protect the concept of net neutrality. Here we will outline what net neutrality is, its past, future, and where some focus may be a bit misguided.
Let’s start with a simple explanation: Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all forms of internet traffic equally, no matter the content.
In practice, this means ISPs like Comcast, Optimum or Verizon cannot speed up their own content while slowing down competitors’ sites. Nor can they charge a service like Netflix additional fees to ensure their customer’s videos aren’t slowed.
In 2015, after a heated debate, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the concept of net neutrality in a set of rules called the Open Internet Order. Siding against the rules were major ISPs while those in support included consumer advocacy groups as well as companies like Google, Netflix, and Amazon. In the end, it was decided that the internet should be reclassified as a “common carrier” and treated in a similar manner as a public utility, i.e., as something Americans require. Categorizing the internet as such meant ISPs would be subject to regulations to ensure they played by the rules.
On April 3rd, 2017, President Trump signed a bill into law that reversed the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) broadband privacy rules. The original rules, which were signed under the Obama administration (but never took effect), would have required internet service providers to get a customer’s permission before sharing information about them, including their browsing history. Now, the House wants to reverse the Trump administration’s decision and bring those consumer protections back as well as restore official net neutrality rules.
Back in 2017 when the original rules were reversed, companies like AT&T and Verizon were quick to stress that is not their policy to sell browsing histories and that they have no plans to do so in the future. Supporters of the privacy rules, however, are hesitant to take the companies at their word without formal rules to abide by.
That particular debate warrants its own post, but for today it merely sets the stage for an examination of the privacy rules’ precursor, net neutrality.
With the Trump rollback of the FCC’s internet privacy rules back in 2017, net neutrality has been at risk. The FCC’s head, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney appointed by Donald Trump, has made it clear that he intends to take on the topic. In a statement released after Trump overturned the internet privacy rules, Pai said:
“The Federal Communications Commission will be working with the Federal Trade Commission to restore the FTC’s authority to police internet service providers’ privacy practices… And we need to end the uncertainty and confusion that was created in 2015 when the FCC intruded in this space.”
In the context of net neutrality, that statement is telling. When enacted, the net neutrality rules gave the FCC oversight, so in order to restore the FTC’s authority, the Open Internet Order would have to be overturned. Repealing the Open Internet Order would be no easy task and may take years to accomplish, but it is well within Pai’s power.
Pai’s comments are also in line with the White House’s views on net neutrality. During a press conference on March 30th, 2017, then Press Secretary Sean Spicer made it clear that Trump wished “to reverse [the FCC’s] overreach,” giving every indication that net neutrality will be on the chopping block in the near future.
Depends on whom you ask.
Internet service providers argue that the internet works just fine with little regulation and that new rules would stifle investments to improve their services. In addition, ISPs believe that since they spent the money to set up the network, they should be entitled to recoup some of the costs from the biggest data hogs.
Supporters of net neutrality, on the other hand, insist formal rules are necessary to maintain equal-access to the internet. They also argue that the rules prevent unfair competition. For example, Netflix may be able to pay an ISP additional fees to ensure their content is never slowed, but a small start up may not be able to do the same, creating an unfair advantage for Netflix. These so-called “fast lanes” would allow ISPs to prioritize certain types of content over others, reducing competition.
Arguments from both sides seem to have merit, but before exploring them further, let’s provide some background on how the internet works and clear up a key question:
In reality, the internet as it exists now is not neutral and hasn’t been for a while. Internet behemoths like Google and Netflix, which account for a disproportionate amount of internet traffic, typically set up their own own content delivery networks, or CDNs, directly within ISPs’ networks. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, often provided for free: Netflix keeps their videos from stuttering, and ISPs have some of the load taken off of their networks. And both get to keep their customers happy with quicker speeds.
It can be argued that these CDNs are actually the “fast lanes” supporters of net neutrality rally against. They do, after all, give companies with deeper pockets a leg up on new competition. However, these arrangements are warranted by the sheer amount of traffic these sites generate. In fact, CDNs are a fundamental piece of the internet’s “backbone” today, and by freeing up bandwidth, actually benefit smaller sites as well. In this regard, ISPs are correct- the internet has succeeded just fine so far, albeit in an open market assisted by tech giants taking on some of the bandwidth burden.
It’s easy to get distracted by the “neutral” part of the argument as it relates to how the internet is set up. If the internet isn’t neutral now yet still works, why implement rules? The reason consumers should care now is due to what the future may entail.
The problem occurs when ISPs become large enough to monopolize that market and control the price for high speed access. Every year, the number of providers across the country shrinks through mergers and acquisitions, leaving only a handful of major internet companies. Often, consumers do not have more than a single option when it comes to choosing their internet provider, which means web companies like Netflix do not either. With little to no competition, ISPs could pick and choose which CDNs they allow, or even create and sell their own (something Comcast is already experimenting with). Unlike the other “fast lanes” mentioned earlier, these would be completely under the control of ISPs.
A common argument from ISPs during the initial net neutrality debate was that the FCC was creating solutions to a problem that didn’t exist. Internet providers didn’t play favorites with the content of their networks, they promised. Unfortunately, we need look no further than the wireless industry to see how quickly that promise can be broken.
Many wireless carriers now offer plans that favor their own services over competitor’s, testing the limits of the net neutrality rules. Verizon Wireless, for example, allows users to watch as much video as they please via their Go90 app without that data counting against their monthly limit. AT&T has a similar promotion with their DirecTV app. Such practices are known as zero-rating, or sponsored data. In essence, they’re charging for competitor’s content while giving theirs away for free, actions that fly directly in the face of the Open Internet Order rules.
This is where the fundamental principle of net neutrality come back into play. By classifying broadband internet providers as “common carriers, the FCC’s 2015 rules allow the type of oversight necessary to protect consumers from such situations.
In January of 2017, a week before leaving his position as chair of the FCC, Tom Wheeler sent a letter to Congress stating that both Verizon and AT&T’s zero-rated plans were in violation of the 2015 Open Internet Order. Fortunately for Verizon and AT&T, however, Donald Trump’s pick for the FCC, Ajit Pai, was not as interested in pursuing the matter. On February 3rd, the FCC announced they were dropping the investigation; another indication that net neutrality may soon be a thing of the past.
With the Trump administration in place, internet providers are confident the FCC won’t take any action against them and are already showing a willingness to flout the rules. Their actions make the case for FCC oversight through net neutrality rules.
In addition, the FCC and Washington should be encouraging competition among ISPs and preventing local monopolies. Without government action, there’s little incentive for these companies to stop consolidating their strangle hold over the market. Sure, competition is not a catch-all solution, but it will certainly improve the industry by encouraging innovation, allowing open access and lowering prices for consumers.
By its very nature, the internet as a network may never be perfectly neutral, but oversight will be required to keep the playing field as level as possible for both consumers and companies. The internet has simply become too integral to daily life to let a few companies control it.
Net neutrality rules benefit all websites, from powerhouses like Facebook down to simple political blogs. And since you’re viewing this on the internet, these orders apply to you as well. Democrat, Independent, Republican- everyone should make their voices heard to maintain these rules.
Below are contact numbers for the FCC and its chairman:
1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322)
Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman
Episode 3 is now available, so grab your favorite adult beverage and give it a listen on your favorite podcast app! Special thanks to our guest, Steve, for stopping by!
To listen to Episode 3 via web browser, check us out at Anchor.fm: https://anchor.fm/drinkingliberally
Episode 2 is now available, so grab your favorite adult beverage and give it a listen! We’re finally approved on Spotify, RadioPublic and Google Podcasts, so be sure to subscribe via your favorite app. Apple is taking a little longer than expected but you should see content there early next week.
To listen to Episode 2 via web browser, check us out at Anchor.fm: https://anchor.fm/drinkingliberally
In today’s episode Kevin references some basic rules for determining how credible news sources are. For more information, check out his latest blog post: Basic Rules for Reading News
We live in an amazing time where technology puts the combined knowledge of the world at our fingertips, allowing us to instantly learn about any topic we desire. But with the good comes the bad: the internet also allows the proliferation of false information, with social media providing a platform for anyone to do so, whether unknowingly or with malicious intent. This post is meant to provide some basic ground rules for browsing the internet to help you better discern fact from fiction and make you a more objective reader.
I am well aware of the irony of an opinion-based podcast or blog calling out the internet’s role in allowing anyone with a keyboard to publish their thoughts. Still, I hope you will apply the rules below to all sites and news sources, this one included.
News articles are meant to be an objective presentation of facts: a story describing an event that has taken place. This description should be free of emotional language that colors the reader’s interpretation of the article.
Editorial pieces, on the other hand, are meant to present the opinion of the author and often take a hard stance on a topic. Most reputable news websites will mark their editorials as such or even house an entire opinion section.
To further discern opinion from articles in the news media, a good rule of thumb is this: if the piece you are reading contains a headshot of the author, then it is most likely an opinion piece.
Otherwise known as “Betteridge’s Law of Headlines,” this theory applies to articles with provocative headlines meant to bait a user into clicking them. For example:
“Did this scientist just discover a miracle cure for cancer?” No.
“Has proof of Bigfoot finally been found?” No. A thousand times no.
Save yourself the time and don’t bother clicking these types of links. Articles like these are typically filled with poorly researched material that just barely justify the attention-grabbing headline. How can you tell it’s poorly researched? Because if the headline could be answered definitively with a “yes” then the author would’ve written a definitive title to match.”Cancer Cured!” would certainly grab the reader’s attention.
Much like headlines that end in a question, clickbait relies on grossly exaggerated or sensationalist claims to get users to click a link. The titles often play on emotions – if a headline is telling you what to feel before you even read the article, then it’s safe to say it’s clickbait. Examples:
“You’ll be shocked at how easy it is to make a million dollars!”
“You won’t believe what astronomers found on Mars!”
There’s a reason why “clickbait” has become a pejorative term: its purpose is to raise advertising revenue through clicks without providing any substantive user content in return. Authors of clickbait take advantage of the fact that outrage sells, regardless of its validity. Don’t give these sites easy money by falling victim to their bombastic links.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor information that aligns itself with preexisting beliefs while ignoring contradictory information. If you see a story that feeds perfectly into your narrative of the world, stop and look for information that contradicts that worldview. Try to look at the other side objectively, and see if your viewpoints are based on facts rather than anecdotal evidence.
Brian believes murder rates in the United States are at an all time high. Then, Brian hears about a murder in his neighborhood. Brian looks at this crime as proof of his earlier belief, further reinforcing it. He will continue this belief despite the number of murders nationally trending downward over the last few decades.
In this case, a single incident, while devastating, does not disprove statistical trends in the grand scheme of things. Brian may believe the world is an unsafe place but quantifiable facts contradict his belief. The challenge is that Brian must become aware of his own confirmation bias before he can begin to accept those facts.
Confirmation bias plays a huge role in politics as well: liberal minded people will seek out stories that confirm their opinions about conservatives, while conservatives seek out stories that conform to their predetermined notions of liberals. Staying aware of your own cognitive biases will make you less likely to be swayed solely by posts that fit the narrative of your political or social bubble.
Which leads us to:
In a world of “alternative facts,” finding factual sources of information is more important than ever. Before sharing stories with headlines like those mentioned throughout this article, do some research. Figure out if the story has been verified by reputable sources and checked by independent sources.
Two of the best fact checking sites are:
Do you have more suggestions for being a more aware reader? Add them to the comments.
Our pilot episode can now be listened to at Anchor.fm! By the end of the week it will also be available wherever you subscribe to podcasts, including Apple, Google, Spotify, Sticher, and more.
We’ll post an update as soon as it’s available on those services so you can subscribe on your favorite app, but for now you can listen to our pilot via your web browser at the link below:
The Drinking Liberally Podcast discusses the politics of the week over some delicious local beers. As our name suggests, we have a liberal bent to our beliefs but we’ll be inviting guests from all walks of life to debate and learn from. At best we’ll learn something new or understand another perspective. At worst, we’ll at least have a good buzz.
You’ll find our trailer linked below, and you can expect Episode 1 to launch within a week. Follow us on social media (@drinking_libpod on Instagram and Twitter) for the most recent updates, and check back here for behind the scenes info on what we’re drinking and any topics that may have wound up on the cutting room floor.
Listen to the trailer here!
The Drinking Liberally Podcast Team