Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Why You Should Pay Attention to Net Neutrality

Today we are taking a break from estate planning to address another area of law that has been in the news a lot in the past year, Net Neutrality. The goals of the blog have not changed; we are still taking a complex topic and explaining it so that more people understand what Net Neutrality means and why it is important to your lives.
Net Neutrality is the principle that all content on the internet is equally accessible, which means that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable cannot favor a particular website over any other website. This has been the case since the inception of the internet. Customers pay an ISP for access to the internet, content providers (like Netflix, Amazon, and niche legal subject blog writers) pay an ISP to create a connection from their content to the internet, and then customers use the connections provided through the ISPs to go wherever they want online. Presently, every service provider, from to is equally accessible; and the “path” to every website is open and the same size.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put in place strong rules that enforced the principle of Net Neutrality, maintaining decades of precedent, and creating an equal opportunity for two attorneys writing about estate planning equal access to anyone online as any other website. These rules prohibited ISPs from blocking websites or giving priority to certain websites. This means that an ISP cannot block their customers from reaching this blog, nor can an ISP redirect their customer to a different website when they attempt to come here. There is broad support for these rules from content providers, business founders, activists, investors, and the typical internet user who just wants to check their email.
On November 21st the FCC announced that it intends to reverse the existing Open Internet Order which protects the principle of Net Neutrality. This announcement comes despite the fact that millions of Americans have contacted the FCC to comment in support of Net Neutrality. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, has indicated that the opinions of Internet users are of little importance compared to the opinions of ISPs. It is Chairman Pai’s position that the companies who provide access to the internet should have the loudest voice when discussing what rules they should follow. Companies involved in an industry often have a larger voice than customers or users when it comes to the laws and regulations that govern their business, but in the context of ISPs it is especially troubling because many of these companies enjoy effective monopolies or duopolies over their customers. In a normal business environment if you do not agree with the actions of a company you can stop using that company. However, the United States the vast majority of people have two or fewer choices when it comes to access to high-speed internet, and if you do not like your ISP you might have no options if you want to access the internet
So what does all of this mean? It means that unless Congress acts to preserve access to the internet in its current form, the FCC will vote on December 14th to remove current protections for Net Neutrality. We know that these changes will occur because the opinions of the FCC Commissioners are publicly available. If you want to get involved there many resources available. As we noted there are a lot of people in favor of maintaining the internet in its current form. Here are just a few websites that have more information:

We hope that you will take the time to get involved with this important issue and help ensure that the internet will continue to be an open space where all websites, especially blogs on estate planning issues, continue to be available to anyone who wants access to information. 
Matt and Al

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