The Day The Internet Died

15 December 2017, 12:07 | Updated: 15 December 2017, 12:24

Activists Supporting Net Neutrality Hold Rallies Across U.S.
Activists Supporting Net Neutrality Hold Rallies Across U.S. Picture: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Benedict Townsend

By Benedict Townsend

Net Neutrality is set to be scaled back in the US. This is a historically devastating day.

This morning people woke up, got dressed and went about their lives as usual. There was no fire, no panic, no lives were lost. To the casual observer it would appear to be a day like any other. But let us be very clear: we have all just witnessed a shocking and historic tragedy. In the future, these few days may well be looked upon by historians with the same gravity and weight as the start of a war, or the death of an icon.

Thursday 14th December may well become known as The Day The Internet Died.

WTF happened?

At the heart of the issue lies Net Neutrality, an issue which many people have heard of, but know little about. This is likely deliberate. The powers-that-be would prefer it if normal people were not educated on important rights - because it makes it that much easier to take them away.

As I explained in my guide to net neutrality, the central problem with Net Neutrality is that it is an extremely important issue... which has the more boring name in the world.

Protestors Rally At FCC Against Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules
Protestors Rally At FCC Against Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules. Picture: (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

What is net neutrality?

Net Neutrality is a broad term that covers the idea that the internet is 'free'. Here are some freedoms that Net Neutrality currently guarantees in the US:

- All websites load equally fast (no one site is made to load slower or faster than other).

- All (legal) websites are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

- Internet providers cannot make you pay extra to visit specific sites.

- Internet providers cannot control what websites you visit.

- Internet providers cannot deliberately slow down loading times to websites they don't like, to the point where people can't access them.

- YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other similar sites are all free to use, with no extra subscription required.

As you can see, these are all vital freedoms, and not only do they make spending time online enjoyable, they also make the internet what it is. They are the backbone of what we perceive the internet to be.

And the FCC has just voted to take them all away.

Protestors Rally At FCC Against Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules
Protestors Rally At FCC Against Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules. Picture: (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

What has happened to net neutrality?

The Federal Communications Commission (known as the FCC) has voted to scale back net neutrality. This vote was carried out by five - yes, FIVE - people and the vote went 3-2 in favour of scaling back the freedoms of internet users.

Putting aside the total insanity that the internet use of America's 252,018,000 internet users was changed by three people, this vote is decidedly Not Good.

The FCC has voted to repeal almost every net neutrality rule there is. In an extra-classy move, they have also voted reclassify broadband in a way that means that rules could not be re-added in future. This is really, really bad.

Who did this?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government which regulates interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. In other words, they control the media that Americans see, hear and surf. If something is censored in the US, it is censored by the FCC.

The head of the FCC is a man named Ajit Pai. He was appointed by President Trump in 2017 and he has been openly gunning to destroy net neutrality for years. Thanks, Trump!

In a baffling move that will surely only solidify his reputation as one of history's biggest shitheads, Ajit Pai posted a video a day before the vote, in which he openly mocks people who are in favour of net neutrality, acts out memes and tells a bunch of straight-up lies about what life would be like without net neutrality. Prepare to be infuriated.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at Net Neutrality hearing
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at Net Neutrality hearing. Picture: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Why did they do this?!

Ajit Pai and the FCC have been saying a bunch of nonsense ahead of this vote about how repealing net neutrality means removing restrictions and making the internet more free.

What they are really talking about is making the internet more free for Internet companies. It is internet companies who are 'restricted' by net neutrality, in that they are 'restricted' from exploiting internet users as much as possible and shaking them for every single penny they have.

Ajit Pai wants to make the internet more 'free' in the sense that letting landlords murder people who don't pay the rent makes the housing market more 'free'.

The only benefactors of this vote are giant telecommunication companies who will, let's be very clear, attempt to screw over internet users as quickly as they are legally able, because they know they will be able to make a fortune doing so.

It is also worth noting that voters did NOT want this. A Washington Post poll found that 83% of people are against repealing Net Neutrality rules - including 2/3 Republicans. This move isn't even popular in Ajit Pai's own party.

What happens now?

There is a spark of hope in that things are not going to change immediately.

The rule changes still need time to come into effect (because this is government we're talking about, and governing is slow as hell). In the meantime, three main things are going to happen:

1. The FCC is going to be showered in lawsuits from basically everyone under the sun

Quick reminder - basically everyone on earth hates this decision. Internet companies especially hate this decision. Google, Netflix - no one wants this. The only people that want this are a very small group of Internet Service Providers (Verizon etc) and people that they donate to (Ajit Pai).

2. Internet Providers won't act... yet

Internet Providers may have benefitted from this decision, but they would insane to act on them right away. They are very much the bad guy in this scenario, in the eyes of the public, and suddenly screwing everyone over would be awful for business. They would also open themselves up to scrutiny or even lawsuits, as the FCC's decision is already so controversial and debated.

3. Congress will get involved

2018 is an election year and there is a good chance that the Democrats may take over Congress. The Democratic Party was firmly against this decision by the FCC, and seeing as the FCC ultimately answers to Congress, they would likely try to stop these changes happening.

Interestingly though, as stated before, Republicans also broadly hate this decision, so we might see some opposition from Congress even while Republicans are still in power.

President Trump supports the FCC decision, so in theory Republicans should follow his example, but Trump is swiftly developing a reputation for making bad judgement calls that other Republicans ignore.

So for now sit tight, keep protesting - and enjoy the sweet, sweet internet while its still free.