Net Neutrality, And Why Veterans Should Care About It

This Post originally appeared in Havok Journal on March 5, 2015

“Freedom of connection with any application to any party is the fundamental social basis of the internet. And now, is the basis of the society built on the internet”. ~ Tim Burners-Lee – English computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web

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Net Neutrality is really confusing, so much so in fact, that most of us don’t take the time needed to understand it; but we should. In the next year legislation will be passed or not passed on this issue, and no matter how it goes down, one thing is for certain, the future of how we all use the internet will forever be changed for better or worse. This legislation will affect all Americans, but there is one group of Americans who should pay extra attention to the net neutrality debate: American Veterans. Here are the down and dirty facts about Net Neutrality and Veterans– your smart card, so to speak.

Close Up Of Person At Laptop Using Mobile PhoneWhat is Net Neutrality: Net Neutrality is a term coined by Columbia Law Scholar Tim Wu in 2003. It is the idea that the internet is a free space where all content is treated equally or neutrally. Content cannot be slowed, prioritized, or blocked depending on an internet provider’s interests. Customers cannot be subjected to different tiers of service based on what they pay.

Imagine if Verizon or Comcast could charge Americans one very expensive rate in order to see everything on the net, and another cheaper rate to see only what the internet provider wanted us to see. As it stands today, the Federal Communications Commission or FCC, has ensured that all content on the net plays on an even field; all data is treated equally. This current situation sounds great right? We want to keep it right? It is, and most do want to keep it, but astoundingly, there are some Americans who want to fundamentally change the way we use our internet.

Who could possibly be against a neutral equal internet? Mainly the large media conglomerates; companies like Verizon, Comcast, ABC, and NBC. These large companies believe that they should be able to configure the access to the internet that they are providing as they wish; they feel that they should be able to experiment with different business models, promote certain things and not promote others. If that isn’t enough to scare the hell out of you…it gets scarier; each one of these colossal telecoms has a few key Senators/Congressmen/women (mostly Republicans) in their pocket, and these small group of lawmakers suddenly seem very interested in blocking the FCC from being able regulate the internet to prohibit such discrimination of information.

Many Republican law makers know that the large campaign donations they receive from these telecoms could dry up if they don’t block this legislation. Republican Senator and Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, John Thune of South Dakota recently stated: “It is a power grab for the federal government by the chairman of a supposedly independent agency who finally succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself.”

The backstory: A long time ago the FCC put in place regulations for phone companies; they determined that telephones and the lines they run on were a public utility, and thus, phone companies could not favor certain conversations and could not discriminate their services. In early 2000, with the rise of huge internet providers (Comcast and Verizon), the FCC began to see some troubling activity on the Net. In 2007 Comcast and AT&Tinitiated the blocking and slowing of large quantities of content from certain companies/organizations. The FCC was concerned that the telecoms had become Gate-keepers of sorts of the internet. So in 2010 the FCC laid down the Open Internet Rules. These rules enforced three ideas:

Transparency. Internet access providers must disclose how they manage their networks.

No blocking. Internet access providers can’t block access to legal content or applications.

No discrimination. Basically, net neutrality. Internet access providers cannot promote or favor one traffic source over another.

The FCC attempted to implement these net neutrality rules twice-but failed. Both times the FCC’s attempts were struck down after multiple Court challenges by deep pocketed telecoms; the courts sided with the telecoms and ruled that the internet is fundamentally different from a utility; that it was an information providing service, and therefore should not be regulated at all.  Now the FCC is attempting for a third time to ensure the Net remains a free digital format. Thankfully, Tom Wheeler, the leader of the FCC is a former lobbyist for the cable wireless industry-and has dug-in. He plans on fighting his corner.

soldier silhouette and flag   dpc
Without Net Neutrality, veterans’ voices might not get heard.

Why should Veterans care about this issue: The Iraq/Afghanistan War is the longest war in our history; 13 years to be exact, and even though only 1% of Americans fought in this war, 1% of our nation is still a lot of people – a lot of people with an American experience wholly different from the rest of society. So it would make sense that this unique population would organize in order to communicate with each other and provide desperately needed support to their community. This veteran organization has primarily taken place over the internet through online charities, journals, discussion groups, blogs, NGOs, activism, social media, and small start-up veteran run businesses of all types.

Imagine if these invaluable small Veteran run charities, NGOs, news outlets, and activists were subjected to tiered service and paid prioritization by giant telecoms? This pay to play situation would result in small veteran run NGOs and start-ups being shut out of the market because they likely could not afford this tiered service. Imagine what the Veteran Community would not have today if our internet was tiered and prioritized by telecoms? We would not have Task and Purpose, Wounded Warriors Project, Team Rubicon, Red, White, and Blue, countless popular veteran and military blogs…the list goes on and on.

What happens next and how can Veterans prevent the Internet from being commandeered by the giant telecoms? Two weeks ago Tom Wheeler the head of the FCC…the former telecom lobbyist, proposed the strongest open internet protections the American people have ever seen. Luckily for us he has a powerful tool in his tool-box: the Title II of the Communication Act. Title II was written to regulate telephone companies and allows the FCC to enforce consumer privacy rules, extract funds from Internet Providers to assist rural communities, educators, and the poor. He has vowed to go to the ropes and fight any last ditch effort by Republican lawmakers in Congress. But these Republicans at the FCC have also vowed to vote against Wheeler’s rules from becoming law.

Veterans must identify their elected officials and find out how they stand on this issue; they must read about net neutrality and seek to understand it…telecoms and certain politicians are banking on this multifaceted issue just being too complicated for the average American to understand. We must prove them wrong, or this legislation will quietly slip by us, and we won’t notice its effects until it is far too late. Veterans must use the powerful lobbying organizations that we have built and lobby for the FCCs ability to keep the internet a free digital space where all web traffic is treated equally regardless of its owner or content; our Veteran community, benefits, health, place in society, and future endeavors depend on it.

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