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The New Era of Net Neutrality May Suck for Accountants, Pretty Much Everyone

It’s clear that we, humanity, can’t have nice things. We most certainly will make a mess of them.

Exhibit A: The Internet

We start out with a boundless information superhighway, and then we run amok. While I can think of lots of ways we have spoiled the Internet, the spotlight is on net neutrality this week.

Since it’s been a year since I covered the topic of net neutrality here on Going Concern, let’s refresh: We are talking about rules that mandate that all Internet service providers treat all data, regardless of the source, in the same way. No preferential treatment. No exclusive, invite-only VIP lane for a select few. If the Internet service provider wants to offer a “fast lane” or other enhancement, it must over the same deal to everyone.

Net neutrality tug of war

If you recall, back in June 2015, the U.S. enacted “rules to protect and promote the open Internet.” The Federal Communications Commision order (now on the chopping block) includes “bright-line rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.” Proponents rejoiced. Internationally, more good news came in August of 2016, when the EU also rolled out pro-neutrality guidelines. But, it was too good to last, at least here in the U.S.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The Republican-led FCC voted in May to begin the process of rolling back the rules, and it is expected to complete the process in the fall. The rules, adopted in 2015, generally require telecommunications companies that provide online access, such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp., to treat all internet traffic the same and not slow or block some sites.

Imagine your unemployed friend who watches Netflix all day having a faster connection speed than your electronic workpapers because Netflix is greasing up Comcast’s coffers. Infuriating.

The idea is so infuriating, in fact, that people took to the streets (digitally, of course) to protest. WSJ reported that “Protesters argue the rollback could allow internet providers to block websites or force them into slow lanes unless they pay.” Yesterday, July 12, 2017, was the net neutrality “Day of Action” and over 200 companies and websites voiced their support.

The protesters (and staunch supporters of net neutrality) include big companies such as Netflix, GoDaddy, Facebook, and Amazon. Their opponents, mostly big Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast, claim that these rules would hurt innovation and stifle investment in infrastructure.

While it seems irrelevant for most accountants, it’s an important topic since much of our work is done online and would be torturous if throttling speeds became common. I’m sure firms would pop for a “fast-lane” to keep you sane. Just kidding, when did firms care about your sanity.

Neutrality seems far from sight

As things rage on, it’s too soon to tell who might be victorious in this battle, let alone the war. For the enjoyment of the Internet and the ability to get things done without forking over more money than currently necessary, I sure hope it leans toward neutrality in the end.

It’s hard to tell if the FCC will even hold the reins on the matter of net neutrality for much longer. ISPs want Congress to step in. The catch is, they (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T) plan to write the rules. Anyone else reminded of the phrase “absolute power corrupts, absolutely?” or is it just me? Verge put it nicely:

Comcast’s David Cohen called arguments in favor of FCC regulation “scare tactics” and “hysteria.” Beyond the dismissive rhetoric, ISPs are coincidentally united today in calling for Congress to act — and that’s because they’ve paid handsomely to control what Congress does.

What you can do

If the fight for net neutrality gets you fired up, you too can reach out to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to express your disgust. Former FCC official, Gigi Sohn, offers tips to on how to write an impactful letter:

  1. Write about yourself and how the net neutrality rules have affected you
  2. Write about what you understand you are buying when you purchase broadband Internet access
  3. Write about the choices you have (or don’t) for broadband Internet access
  4.  Write about what role you think the FCC should have in overseeing the market for broadband Internet access

It may not help, since who knows if they actually get read, and if Congress starts dabbling with the topic more, good luck. But, hey, it may make you feel better about life.

Image: Unsplash