Why Telecom Wants To Kill Net Neutrality

Fear of losing control

Key Takeaways

  • In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality rules put in place in 2015.
  • A new report has found that millions of comments submitted were fake and submitted by telecom companies to falsely influence the public’s opinion.
  • Experts say these new findings give even more weight to the recent calls for the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules and protect how we use the internet.
A judges gavel propped on a laptop computer with the scales of justice in the background.

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A new report shows that big telecom companies will do almost anything to stop net neutrality, including falsely using your personal information to influence the Federal Communications Commission's decisions.

The report, released by the New York attorney general this week, shows that millions of comments submitted to the FCC in favor of repealing net neutrality in 2017 were not only fake, but were created through a secret campaign funded by major broadband companies that lured consumers through promises of free gifts and rewards.

Experts say this isn’t the only time that big telecom companies have abused their power, and it serves as more evidence that proper net neutrality laws are needed to protect the American people.

"This terrific investigative work by the New York AG should be a cautionary note to policymakers and the public to examine more closely the motives of these companies," Lucile Vareine, the senior staff manager of corporate communications at Mozilla, told Lifewire in an email.

"Can consumers trust the words of ISPs when this investigation shows the length that they’ll go to undermine the integrity of the FCC proceedings?"

Control Freak

But why would big telecom companies go to so much trouble to make it look like the American people hate net neutrality? Because it takes away the control those companies have over how you access information on the internet.

Since the repeal of net neutrality rules in 2017, internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T have had free reign to control how and what you can access on the internet.

"As a result of these revelations, the FCC has further reason to go back and revisit its 2017 decision to repeal net neutrality."

So far, we’ve only seen a few instances of ISPs abusing that control. In 2018, Verizon throttled data to the Santa Clara fire department, forcing the department to pay twice as much to lift the throttling. Verizon ultimately said it wasn’t a net neutrality issue, instead blaming a customer service error. But with proper net neutrality laws, that kind of throttling wouldn’t even be possible.

There are concerns that, without any additional oversight, we could start to see ISPs throttling bandwidth to companies or websites—or just charging consumers more to access those sites.

Netflix estimates that it takes 7GB to stream one hour of 4K footage from its service. If you have 2 million people watching 4K videos on Netflix, that puts a significant strain on the network, which ISPs could use as a reason to slow down access to that site, or even charge users for access to a "fast lane" that makes it load quicker.

"If the big tech corporations had their way, they would sell piecemeal internet packages structured like cable packages. So instead of having equal access to everything on the internet, you'd end up having to pay more for access to streaming services, online gaming, etc," Rex Freiberger, CEO of GadgetReview, told us in an email.

Someone working on a laptop that displays "Net Neutrality" on the screen.

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Ultimately, it comes down to profit. Without net neutrality laws in place, ISPs are geared to make far more money, because they can take part in practices that will only hurt consumers, making it harder for you to access the content you want to access. 

Rigging the Game

In 2015, public comments were a big part of why the FCC voted in favor of net neutrality. When the agency re-opened comments in 2017, big telecom companies like Fluent, React2Media, and Opt-Intelligence saw a chance to influence the ruling in their favor.

Of the 22 million comments received by the FCC, 18 million were found by the New York attorney general to be fake. Of those 18 million, 8.5 million had been submitted through co-registration campaigns, which saw companies promising rewards like sweepstakes entries and even gift cards to get consumers to sign up. 

Those companies then used the information provided by consumers to file false responses to the FCC’s proposal. This created a false narrative that Americans favored the removal of net neutrality laws, which experts believe influenced the FCC’s decision to repeal those rules.

"These new findings demonstrate that the ISPs provided false information to the FCC when it was evaluating net neutrality in 2017," Vareine said. "As a result of these revelations, the FCC has further reason to go back and revisit its 2017 decision to repeal net neutrality."

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