On December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to vote on whether or not to repeal net neutrality. Now, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, and 28 senators are lobbying for the FCC to delay its net neutrality vote. The group hopes that such a deferment would allow enough time for a proper investigation to be launched into the recent scandal involving a surge of fake comments in favor of the repeal, which were submitted to the FCC under the names of real people.
As reported by Schneiderman, a Broadband for the America-funded study found that nearly 8 million comments on the repeal were submitted using either temporary or disposable email addresses, and roughly 10 million used duplicate email and home addresses. These were taken as obvious signs of foul play, which ultimately led Schneiderman to conclude that over 1 million Americans’ identities were used to submit false comments in favor of the repeal. Rachel Shippee, Schneiderman’s office’s assistant press secretary, was among the identities taken.
The source of these comments remains unknown. “We received over 400,000 pro-internet regulation comments from the same mailing address in Russia,” FCC representative Brian Hart previously confirmed to Futurism via email. However, it’s not clear whether the culprit was based in the country, or just attempting to conceal their location.
To this end, Schneiderman asserts that it is especially important to launch a formal investigation “in an era when foreign governments, and those seeking an unfair advantage here at home, have tried to undermine our democratic institutions.” He went on to call the FCC’s comment process “deeply corrupted,” — a sentiment shared by others within the group of experts who are pressing the FCC to uncover the truth before the vote, so that those voting would not be doing so backed by false information.
Schneiderman and his fellow advocates are pressing the FCC and the government not just because they want to assure due process, but perhaps even more so because the stakes of repealing net neutrality are very high not just for U.S. citizens, but globally.
Imagine, if you will, an example of a world without net neutrality:
You’re at work and want to check Facebook on your lunch break to see how your sister is doing. This is not exactly a straightforward task, as your company uses Verizon. You’re not about to ask your boss if they’d consider putting up the extra cash every month so that you can access social media in the office, so you’ll have to wait until you get home.
That evening, you log in to pay your monthly internet bill — or rather, bills.
See, there’s the baseline internet cost, but without net neutrality, you also have to pay a separate monthly fee for social media, another for “leisure” pages like Reddit and Imgur, and another still for liberal-leaning news sites — because your provider’s CEO is politically conservative. Not only is your bill confusing, you’re not sure you can really afford to access all these websites that, at one point in time, you took for granted.
In addition to the sites you can access if you pay for them, there are also websites that have just become lost to you. Websites that you once frequented, but that now, you aren’t even sure how to access anymore. You can’t even pay to access them. You used to like reading strange Wikipedia articles late at night and cruising for odd documentaries — but now, all those interests that once entertained and educated you in your precious and minimal free time are either behind yet another separately provided paywall or blocked entirely. You’ve started to ask around, see if your friends or coworkers with other providers have better access. . . but the story is pretty much always the same.
This anecdote represents a fairly simple prediction of what life would be like if the repeal were to move forward. Sound fanciful? Some countries are already living this reality. In New Zealand, Vodafone offers mobile internet packages that are comprised of different types of services. You might have to pay a certain amount to access social apps like Snapchat and Instagram, and a separate fee to chat with friends via Facebook Messenger and iMessage. A similar framework is used by Portugal’s MEO, where messaging, social media, music streaming, video streaming, and email are also split into separate packages.
Schneiderman and the experts who are pushing the FCC have, no doubt, considered the extreme end of the spectrum of possibilities as well. Not long ago, the U.N. declared access to the internet a human right, and these advocates are working tirelessly to ensure that corrupt forces do not compromise, or deny that right.