Think your internet service is slow now? Just wait.
Think your internet service is too expensive? You might soon wish you could pay what you pay now.
Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed rules that would reverse what has become known as "net neutrality." In other words, internet service providers are prohibited from choosing to slow content to some sites, or charging premiums for certain types of content.
If you value free speech and being free from the censorship by big corporations, then reversing net neutrality should alarm you. Without it, large companies could limit which websites you visit. They could also decide to block sites for any reason they want.
Of course, large telecommunications companies have feigned shock that customers might suspect they would either slow down the internet or charge premiums for certain content, like Netflix or Hulu. Big companies, like Comcast, have pledged that they won't slow down, throttle or block content.
But let's face it: If the new rules roll back net neutrality, then absolutely nothing will stop service providers from doing all of those things. Consumers won't be able to hold providers to clever PR slogans or slick ad campaigns. Those aren't contracts, and they're certainly not law.
The truth is that these new rules seem written for large corporations that could easily send rates skyrocketing for service. Moreover, it could provide plenty of collusion by these companies brokering deals with services that would soak the customers. Here's how: A large service provider might threaten to throttle back a streaming service, like Sling, YouTube, Hulu or Netflix, unless they pay premium, or unless a customer pays a premium. That means not all content on the Internet would be accessible to everyone with a connection. As a consumer, you may not be able to access what you can now.
If these laws go into effect, there would be no recourse, other than to pay whatever your internet service provider demanded. It's content extortion.
In this very real way, net neutrality is more than just a threat to your pocketbook. Loss of net neutrality is a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of thought. If you are blocked from accessing content, the large internet service providers will be placing themselves in the role of censor, allowing you to see some sites, while banning or slowing flow to another. Simply put, they will have the power to control what you see and maybe what you know.
We must fight for net neutrality because the only assurances we have are from the very companies that would stand to benefit. And their only guarantee is, "Trust us."
We could also imagine a much more sinister reality. We could imagine internet service providers simply blocking sites that may not agree with them. What happens if, say, a news outlet reported that an internet service provider was engaged in price gouging? It would not be impossible to think that a service provider could simply block the site, and do it legally.
This not only holds consumers hostage, but also all businesses that use a website (in other words, everyone). This is the equivalent of giving another business the right to block the front door of your business — just in electronic form.
Some Republicans, including Montana's Sen. Steve Daines, have praised the new rules, saying they eliminate burdensome rules that inhibit business development.
But, we don't see many businesses in Montana that can't compete because of net neutrality. Instead, we only see a handful of very large providers who could guarantee a stranglehold here, with the help of a senator who is supposed to be watching out for our best interest.
We might be able to buy Daines' flimsy free-market argument if there were truly a market. But most Montanans don't have reasonable choices when it comes to internet service providers. Most have only one choice, and service in some parts of the state isn't that great.
The barrier to entry to become an internet service provider is also costly, nearly assuring that even with the rollback of net neutrality, there's not going to be companies all of a sudden swarming to do business here in the Treasure State.
Daines is simply protecting big business at the expense of Montanans who rely on internet to conduct business worldwide.
We don't have a choice, and this would make Montana even more vulnerable to a company that wants to charge more or throttle back.
That's why the Obama-era rules were and should be a good thing. Those rules treated the internet as a vital service, much like electricity a century ago. No longer is the internet or email a luxury, but an everyday reality of life, even in the more rural parts of our state. Just like electricity — at one point — wasn't a novelty.
We call on our members of Congress to do everything they can to reject these rules and make laws that would ensure net neutrality is preserved permanently.
Why would our own government want us to pay more for internet and get less?