Today: July 12th Day of Action for net neutrality
Tell the FCC that we need net neutrality
A free net is necessary for a free society, and free software cannot thrive in a world where access to the Internet is controlled by people who work hard every day to restrict our freedom. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai is looking to hand control of the Internet over to companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, who are much more interested in their own profits than protecting your freedoms. Spread the word—tell your friends why we need to defend net neutrality today.
Net neutrality is the idea that the net should provide the same services to all of its users, without discriminatory practices like paywalls that restrict your access to specific sites, or throttled network speeds. Without network neutrality, you can't trust the Internet to connect you honestly to the sites you wish to talk with. You may be charged extra, hampered, or blocked entirely from sites that the Internet service provider (ISP) does not like. When it does allow you to communicate with a site, it may alter the data sent to and from the site.
A loss of net neutrality would give companies pushing Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) even more control; impact the collaboration that makes free software possible; and create an unequal field of digital engagement in which there is no guaranteed way to make sure your freedoms are being respected.
With the support of large ISPs, Chairman Pai is looking to tear down the already fragile network neutrality in place.
We all need unfettered access to the Internet. In the last 30 days, over 700,000 people have left comments on Docket 17-108 (the misleadingly named "Restoring Internet Freedom," which in truth is designed to inhibit Internet freedom). Docket 17-108 is the FCC proposal to slash Title II protections for net neutrality.
We're asking you to share this post with your friends. In the battle for Internet freedom, our best hope is having as many people as possible aware of the importance of net neutrality and the risk it is currently facing. Please post on social media, share this (and similar e-mails and blog posts) with your friends, or write your own messages. Tell the people in your life not just that net neutrality is important to you, but why. Grassroots organizing can make a difference, and you're an important part of that.
You can read more below about why we at the Free Software Foundation care about net neutrality.
Why does net neutrality matter?
DRM thrives without net neutrality
Media distribution giants that use Digital Restrictions Management and proprietary software to control what's on your computer have also been fighting for years to control the network. Without net neutrality, DRM-laden materials could be easier to access, while DRM-free competitors could be stuck in the slow lane. Web-based free software projects like GNU MediaGoblin could also suffer the slow treatment while competitors like YouTube shell out big bucks for speedier service. The bottom line: an Internet where the most powerful interests can pay for huge speed advantages could push smaller free software projects right off the map and make it harder for decentralized projects to flourish. That's not good for free software, and it's not good for other innovative voices for change in the digital world.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee recently ratified the inclusion of Encrypted Media Extensions (a form of DRM) into Web standards. While not all hope is lost, since member organizations still have time left to appeal the decision—this is an example of why net neutrality is so important. DRM is finding more footholds for itself on the Web, and we need to reinforce the protections we have against it.
Net neutrality and free software
Free software can't survive without net neutrality. Donald Robertson III, from the FSF Licensing team, explains why:
When the free software movement started decades ago, the primary means of sharing software was via physical media. While selling or lending tapes or disks helped build the fledgling movement, today we all expect to send and receive software via the Web. Whether you are downloading updates, pushing a patch back upstream, or even finding a new distro for your laptop, you rely on the Internet for access to software and documentation. Without net neutrality, all that could go away. The new distro that you would come to love wouldn't come into existence, because the volunteers creating it could not only be limited in their ability to share it with you, but they themselves could be limited in their ability to download the packages that comprise the operating system. We could of course all go back to sharing tapes and CDs, but the explosion in growth and development that rose along with the rise of the free Internet would be hindered. No one, except greedy telecoms, wants to go back in time twenty years to when getting free software involved a postage stamp.
It is impossible to enforce net neutrality without free software. Unless we're able to examine and study the software used to keep the net free, we're unable to ensure that it is actually respecting net neutrality. Similarly, without net neutrality, it is unlikely that ISPs will ever use freedom-respecting software.
Ian Kelling, of the FSF Tech Team, highlights the ways in which the ideologies of free software and net neutrality are related:
Free software enables us to have software that works for us, and developers of free software get to really dig deep on what is in the best interests of the user. ISPs, on the other hand, are acting for themselves, and there are many examples of them doing things that are clearly against their customers' interests. Net neutrality provides some basic rules of the road, and there are more ways we should make ISPs act in our interests. But we can't develop a better ISP like we can with free software.
Words from Richard Stallman, President of the FSF
25 years ago, there were so many ISPs that competition discouraged abuses. Since then, the US government has allowed so many mergers that competition between ISPs is almost nonexistent. It is no deterrent nowadays to abuses of any kind.
The FCC's network neutrality regulation does not go far enough. Full network neutrality means that the ISP cannot take note of which site you are communicating with, except under a specific court order aimed at you. But that is a battle for another day. Today we must defeat the attempt to abolish the limited network neutrality we already have.
Net neutrality as an international issue
Net neutrality is very much an international issue. There are the BEREC net neutrality guidelines in the European Union. Internet.org was rolled out in Zambia, which provides gratis Internet in exchange for allowing Facebook control of what users see and access. TRAI, India's regulatory body, tackles issues of net neutrality by banning differential pricing for data.
United States policy has impact far beyond its borders—and with net neutrality this is no different. By allowing US-based companies to restrict access within the US, those companies are more easily able to extend those restrictions elsewhere. There are social and economic impacts of a non-neutral net—even now net neutrality violations exist.
Digital rights are a global issue. Moving forward, we need to work together to make sure that there is equitable access to freedom-respecting technology across the globe. Keeping the Internet accessible with the help of net neutrality is the next step. Let's take it together.