If you don’t use the internet, you can probably skip this. You probably have to mill some wheat into flour or maybe raise a barn or repair a busted spoke on your wagon wheel anyway.
But if you’ve ever sent an email or watched a cat video or streamed the new T-Swift album or binge-watched “Stranger Things” or, heck, read sltrib.com, you should probably pay attention.
In a few weeks the Federal Communications Commission will vote on a policy that will likely determine how every American does any of those things.
In 2015, the FCC adopted rules that essentially treated the internet line to your house much like the sewer line — a company can’t make your internet run slower, just like the water company can’t make your toilet flush slower, unless you pay an upcharge.
Put another way, you don’t get stuck driving on a dirt road while those that pay a premium use the one that’s paved. “There are no toll roads on the information superhighway,” President Barack Obama said in 2014.
Now the rule is under assault, as the gigantic internet service providers — most notably Comcast and Verizon, those noted friends of consumers — are attempting to wipe out those regulations. The change would essentially let them set their own prices, restrict speeds, prioritize content and really act without any oversight or consumer protections.
Last week, the FCC announced it would vote Dec. 14 on a proposal to do away with the Obama-era regulations turning an already near-monopoly into the Wild West.
That ends up being terrible for pretty much anyone who goes online.
You like Netflix? Fine. But when Netflix has to shell out millions of dollars to the cable companies to make sure its programming isn’t slowed down, who do you think ends up paying for that? It’s us.
The massive tech companies like Facebook and Google and Amazon don’t like the proposal to repeal the regulations either, of course, because they would have to pay millions or be put at a competitive disadvantage.
It would be the greatest shakedown of all time.
And what happens to the next tech startup? The beauty of the internet age is how quickly it revolutionizes itself. New ideas and billion-dollar concepts rise, flourish and crumble in the span of a decade or two, replaced with something newer and better.
But how many ingenious ideas would be stymied or crushed because a startup can’t pay for the same speed the behemoths enjoy and ends up at a competitive disadvantage?
There’s the potential for something even more troubling, and that is the big internet providers could start manipulating speeds based on content. Bits of data would no longer just be bits of data.
Information deemed to be objectionable, for whatever reason, could get stuck in the slow lane, while the ideas the ISPs want to promote would get zipped to your computer without delay. It’s a dangerous opportunity for censorship that could transform internet service providers into thought police.
And if you thought the Beltway game isn’t rigged, you haven’t been paying attention. Ajit Pai, who was appointed chairman of the FCC by President Donald Trump earlier this year, used to work for Verizon, which, by the way, has spent millions lobbying to do away with these so-called “net neutrality” regulations.
And there were reports over the weekend that as many as 1.3 million comments, most of them supporting rescinding the rules were from fake accounts or bots.
In an piece published Wednesday in The Los Angeles Times, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called the proposal to ditch net neutrality “a lousy idea” and implored the public to “make a ruckus.”
So do that.
Contact the FCC and implore the commission to postpone the vote so, as Rosenworcel suggests, there can be public hearings on the matter.
And don’t stop there. Contact your member of Congress, particularly Sen. Orrin Hatch — Sen. Mike Lee has sponsored legislation to kill the net neutrality rules, seeing them as government overreach — and turn up the political pressure on Congress to protect internet access. The issue isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about our future.