It’s Thanksgiving, which means that you have better things to do than worry about seemingly arcane rules repealed by the FCC, and that’s exactly why the net neutrality repeal was announced this week. Net neutrality is a phrase that seems designed to put people to sleep, but the premise is very simple: right now, the internet runs at roughly the same speed regardless of which website you go to. Without net neutrality, internet service providers like Comcast can effectively control what websites you can visit by manipulating the speed of the connection. Portugal does not have net neutrality, and they provide a window into what this dystopian future looks like.
Without net neutrality, Comcast would be able to control what you can see based on what you're willing to pay them. Under the new order ushered in by the FCC next month, the Comcast's of the world may have unilateral power over the most democratic force in the history of mankind. The argument in favor of getting rid of net neutrality is basically trickle-down economics—a philosophy that the Republican Party religiously adheres to, where they believe that all we need to do is funnel all of our cash to the very top of the economic ladder, and somehow, our own money will trickle back down to us plebeians. They've been trying this since the 1980s, and inequality has only gotten worse during that time. There is no modern theory that has been more thoroughly debunked by reality than supply-side economics.
If you believe that Comcast and Time Warner are fundamentally trustworthy, then you either are a sad person or have never paid for cable or internet in your life. There is little competition with ISP's, as these massive conglomerates have effectively divided the country up and granted each other monopolies, while leaving table scraps for the smaller ISP's to fight over. Repealing net neutrality is essentially like letting the fox into the henhouse and hoping they won't do what they're designed to do. Big business in America is inherently predatory, and what is happening in Portugal is a glimpse into our totalitarian future.
Stop me if you've heard this before, but the root of this problem is that Congress won't do their job. The internet is classified as a utility like phone lines, even though it clearly is in a category all by itself. Everyone acknowledges that this is and always has been a clunky solution to a complex problem, but Congress refuses to do anything on this front, so the job falls to the executive branch. The FCC is a partisan body run by a 3 to 2 majority in favor of whomever is president. Because we have a pure kleptocrat in office now, Trump is using the FCC to sell the internet to the highest bidder. The big ISP's have been clamoring to repeal net neutrality for quite some time, and all it took was a president uninterested in democracy to enable their worst instincts.
This is likely happening, and it will fundamentally change the nature of the internet forever. You will find some of your favorite websites effectively blocked by slow connections. You will have to pay more to use services you already have ingrained into your life like Facebook and Netflix. Proponents of repealing net neutrality argue that doing this would create more competition in the market, but that's a naïve reading of how the market works. There are plenty of smaller internet service providers who this repeal is theoretically supposed to help, but the market has consolidated to the point where it's difficult to not envision giants like Comcast throwing their weight around, given how many markets where they are the only option for people to connect to the internet.
Additionally, hundreds of thousands of impersonators have flocked to the FCC's comment page on net neutrality, and they have provided no information to New York's Attorney General who is investigating this.
Bottom-line: there are few instances of non-neutral activity by internet service providers under net neutrality, and looking at countries like Portugal is a window into our future. If you believe that the most democratizing force in the history of mankind should remain free from being sold to you in pieces, then call your Congressman to demand that they do their job and introduce legislation prior to net neutrality being rolled back in mid-December, so we can actually have a debate about this. This repeal will fundamentally change the internet forever, but don't take my word for it—listen to a widely respected, and wildly successful internet entrepreneur.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.