Net Neutrality Threatened

FCC Proposal Could Let Firms Buy Preferential Treatment Online

Your competitor may soon be able to pay to have its website download faster than yours if a Federal Communications Commission proposal becomes law.

The plan, advanced by the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, would essentially allow big internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to discriminate against some websites and give preferential treatment to others.


Joe Dysart

“Allowing companies to buy their way into a more advantageous position, or for providers to put priority on one website versus another based upon money, will simply drive up the costs for everybody, but mostly the end consumer,” said Tom Benusa, chief information officer at truckload carrier Transport America.

“The established companies with deep pockets might be able to squeeze out a startup that is bringing a superior product to the market place,” Benusa added. “But the only thing all of this will accomplish is to line the pockets of companies that provide these services in an equitable manner today.”

David Roush, president of KSM Transport Advisors, agreed.

“The internet has been the platform for so much innovation. Allowing commercial interests to erect as of yet unknown barriers to access will no doubt be a barrier to innovation,” Roush said. “In today’s world, every company, including trucking companies, need a web presence. Most buyers check out the website first as part of their buying decision process — when they actually call the company the purchasing decision is well down the road. … I think abandoning net neutrality will stifle legitimate innovation and make it more difficult to determine what is and is not real on the internet.”

However, Pai’s proposal is receiving spirited support from some Republicans in Congress.

“We are fortunate to have a chairman who knows our nation needs an FCC that will encourage innovation, not suffocate it under the weight of an outdated bureaucracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who strongly supports the move.

Consumer advocates who strongly oppose the plan thought they’d beaten back the same attempt at a power grab by the giant ISPs a few years back. Then, as now, these ISP were essentially looking to become lords of the web, and decide whose website gets the best treatment based on how much money the businesses behind those websites were willing to pay.

That attempted coup did not sit well with the Obama administration, and the Obama-era FCC found a handy tool in 2015 to derail the effort: Simply reclassifying broadband internet as a telecommunications service.

With that simple definition change, the FCC gave itself the right to strictly regulate giant ISPs in 2015 and quickly set about the business of prohibiting those ISPs from “selling” preferential treatment on the web.


As many who closely followed the story at the time already know, the concept of ensuring that all businesses, organizations and individual users get equal treatment on the web came to be widely known as “net neutrality.”

Specifically, long-time proponents of net neutrality say the 2015 ruling prohibits practices such as:

•Allowing a company to give an ISP money to speed up the download of its website and slow the download of a competitor’s site.

•Enabling an ISP to slow the responsiveness of the Google search engine for its subscribers, if it was paid by Bing to do so.

•Giving internet companies a green light to block your access to websites that differ from their political preferences on any number of issues.

•Enabling the giant ISPs to manipulate traffic on the web in all sorts of other ways.

Rodney Rader, director of technology at truckload fleet Prime Inc., said the 2015 ruling makes sense. “Why should an ISP control what you can access and prioritize what you’re offering to current and potential customers?”

Sadly for net neutrality supporters, FCC’s Pai will be able to reverse all the protections for equal treatment on the web by orchestrating a simple reversal of the Obama administration reclassification decision.

With that quick change, giant ISPs will instantly have the right to engage in discriminatory activities such as those listed earlier.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a vigorous defender of equal treatment on the web for years, said: “The only way to protect a free and open internet is with strong net neutrality rules of the road — not voluntary guidelines — that ensure businesses, innovators and families can use the world’s greatest platform for commerce and communications. Chairman Pai’s proposal would put the future of an open and free internet in the hands of big corporations and the powerful few at the expense of consumers.”

Not surprisingly, the giant ISPs insist that handing over control of the internet to a few, powerful telecoms will only result in great advantage for all.

“The FCC’s previous action reclassifying the internet under clunky Title II telephone rules has turned back the clock away from the successful — and bipartisan — policies that produced over two decades of enormous growth and innovation that have brought so much progress for our citizens,” said Jonathan Spalter, CEO of U.S. Telecom, an industry group representing ISPs such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

“Americans deserve policies every bit as smart, resilient and forward-looking as the broadband services, applications and networks our innovators provide and our communities require,” Spalter added.

Spalter’s group is getting heavy support from a number of Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who are attempting to do their own gutting of net neutrality with proposed legislation.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), for example, has introduced a bill that would eliminate Obama-era net neutrality protections. Moreover, the bill would prohibit the FCC from issuing a similar rule in the future.

That effort has the support of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the former presidential candidate.

“Two and a half years ago, I said that net neutrality was ‘Obamacare for the internet,’ ” Cruz said. “I am proud to work with my friend Mike Lee on the Restoring Internet Freedom Act, a bill that rolls back former President Obama’s power grab, protects open internet principles, and recognizes the transformative effect that the internet has had on our lives.”

Under Pai’s leadership, the FCC could be able to officially reverse the Obama administration protections — and effectively destroy net neutrality — before year’s end.

But some in Congress are pushing back against the proposal.

“For as long as the internet has existed, it’s been grounded on the principle of net neutrality — that what you read, see, or watch on the internet shouldn’t be favored, blocked, or slowed down based on where that content is coming from,” said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). “Net neutrality allows a small business in Minnesota to compete with the big guys; it drives innovation, and it protects free speech. But the new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, announced that he’s putting the rules that safeguard net neutrality on the chopping block.”

“Let me be very clear: Getting rid of net neutrality would destroy the internet as we know it,” Franken added. “I plan to fight Chairman Pai’s proposal — and the big cable and Internet companies who are the real muscle behind this attack — every step of the way, because consumers, small businesses, and all Americans deserve an open internet.”

Fred Thayer, director corporate communications at Werner Enter­prises, also expressed concerns about the potential end of net neutrality.

“Regardless of the industry, competition is what drives the betterment of our society. Think of the many startups with very little funds and where they might be if the internet was nothing more than a pay to play,” he said. “Eliminating net neutrality may cause an unfair advantage in the market place and drive public thought and opinion to a predetermined goal that is not necessarily in the viewer or customer’s best interest.”

“Large, medium-sized and small companies all have contributions that are beneficial,” Thayer added. “Once the neutrality of the internet is removed, the larger wallet drives everything. This will include public thought and opinion and I believe that is not only bad for commerce, but also growth in any industry because of its effect on overall competition.”

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in New York. Voice: (646) 233-4089. E-mail: Web: