Caitlin Gallagher
December 12, 2017 12:18 pm
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You use the internet every day, and you’ve likely seen friends posting on social media about the importance of net neutrality. But you may not fully understand how ending net neutrality could impact you. As it’s the holiday season, perhaps the best way to drive home how essential a free and open internet is is by looking at how the end of net neutrality could impact your online shopping.

The reason net neutrality is currently in the news is because President Donald Trump wants to undo net neutrality policies that were enacted during President Barack Obama’s tenure. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai is proposing to reverse the Obama-era net neutrality rules. As explained by Wired, the rules from the Obama administration “banned internet service providers from blocking or slowing down content, or creating so-called ‘fast lanes’ for companies willing to pay extra to deliver their content more quickly.”

Pai, who was appointed by Trump and used to work as a lawyer for Verizon, explained in a statement that he wants to overturn the net neutrality rules so “the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet.” Pai’s proposal will be voted on at the FCC’s next open meeting on December 14th.

The concern is that if internet providers are allowed to block or slow down content on specific websites, your access to the internet will be limited. For example, your internet provider may intentionally slow down Netflix or make you pay an additional fee to stream its content.

As a video from Huffington Post explained it: “No net neutrality could mean less consumer choice.” The video stated, “Internet service providers will also be able to block or throttle bandwidth on sites they don’t like.” Although Huffington Post used the example that your internet provider could block you from searching for a different internet provider, this idea is relevant to other types of shopping too.

While the concerns are currently hypothetical, John Oliver has covered net neutrality extensively on his show, Last Week Tonight, and in 2017, he reminded viewers of the fact that in 2013, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile blocked Google Wallet. People who had those cell phone carriers could not download the Google Wallet app because Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile had their own payment app that the companies wanted people to use instead of Google Wallet.

So if your internet provider has an issue with a website you shop on, there’s a possibility that, if these net neutrality policies are reversed, the internet company could make it so you are unable to access that site. Or it might make certain pages load slower, so that you give up on shopping on a specific website.

If you think this scenario is overly dramatic, just consider how at odds Google and Amazon currently are. As CNBC noted, even though Google and Amazon say they support net neutrality, their current actions — including Google blocking YouTube from Amazon streaming products — aren’t backing up their claims. So if there are no net neutrality regulations, it is entirely possible that companies like Google and Amazon could go so far as to pay internet providers to limit your access to a competing company.

And that’s not even considering how these Goliath-like companies could block smaller competitors’ websites. As Forbes wrote, “Without the assurance of net neutrality, large internet companies could favor their own business interests.” So if it’s in the financial interest of an internet provider to limit access to a smaller retail company, what’s to stop it from doing that?

Slate also looked to other countries without net neutrality to see what could happen.

Right now, we’re really focused on that disturbing “steer their buying habits” line.

While the prospect of the control that internet providers could have over our online shopping habits is bad enough, there could be far greater repercussions since households with lower incomes might be unable to access certain parts of the internet if they are forced to pay more. Even with acknowledging all of the ugliness that exists on the web, the internet is a public database of almost all information. That’s why it is inherently wrong to give internet providers the ability to block or limit this knowledge.

You can make your voice heard by visiting gofccyourself.com (which Oliver’s team set up) to create an express filing that clearly states you are in support of net neutrality. You can also call your government representatives. Because while the FCC’s vote is out of the public’s hands, do not let net neutrality — and your unlimited access to online shopping —  go gentle into that good night.

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