It’s 2017 and we’re once more fighting the battle for Net Neutrality, one we thought we won a few years back when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) understood that the best interest of the people trumped that of a handful of Internet providers.
Ever since the Trump administration came into power, and the newly elected President named Ajit Pai as the chief of the FCC, the fight for net neutrality started once more, especially since Pai, a former commissioner under the previous administrations, publicly expressed his opposition to the idea of net neutrality and vowed to annul the protections it offers. Of course, given how he used to be a lawyer for telcos, his opinion doesn’t really come as a surprise.
Pai seems to see no one, hear no one, except the telcos that he’s trying to give free hand. It doesn’t matter if it’s the millions of people leaving comments on the FCC page in support of net neutrality, or the most powerful tech companies, like Alphabet or Facebook.
But let’s start things off with the beginning. What is net neutrality? Well, it’s the principle that says that all Internet connections should be treated equally – ISP have to enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, without playing favorites or blocking out competitors. For instance, a few years back, before net neutrality regulations were set in place, Netflix accused Comcast of throttling the Internet connection of those looking to use their service and even agreed to pay them to make this stop. It should be mentioned right about now that Comcast is a partial owner of competitor video streaming service – Hulu.
The main idea is that no one – not a company and not users – should have to pay ISPs to have access to sites and services they want to use, even if they’re heavy traffic users. Nor should they have to pay more for using more data per month. Nowadays, much like television and telephones, the Internet is a utility and should be treated as such.
In 2014 a battle went down to convince the FCC to take proper action and to enforce net neutrality rules, which they did. For a few years, it was a success for millions of Internet users, but not one for telcos.
Now that the FCC has expressed its clear intention of killing net neutrality we have plenty of things to worry about. One of these is that telcos will once more be allowed to do whatever they want when it comes to your Internet connection.
Another is related to the cyber security and privacy implications that come from killing net neutrality.
The ISP will have the power to make money off your browsing history, which is risky. Sure, they’re already collecting plenty of data on you, like types of websites you’re browsing, metadata, and even search terms. Once that information is stored, hackers can potentially have access to it. How many times over the years have we not heard about companies like Comcast getting hacked and sensitive data leaking out?
Undermining your security
Internet providers will also be able to undermine encryption. There’s this standard ISPs have proposed called Explicit Trusted Proxies. Basically, they’ll intercept your encrypted data, remove the encryption to read it all, encrypt it again and send it on its way. In this way, they’ll be able to pick up even more info to sell to marketers.
US-CERT, an organization that’s part of the Department of Homeland Security, recently released an alert warning that many HTTPS inspection products don’t actually do a proper job verifying the certificate chain of the server before re-encrypting and forwarding client data. This could allow Man in The Middle attacks, which means the ISPs could end up weakening the security of the entire encryption process, putting users at risk.
We should all be pretty aware of the fact that the privacy of the future is not like anything we know now, mostly because the entire world around us is becoming Internet-connected. Still, at this point in time, knowing telcos could record any data on our Internet activities and sell it off to marketers, even anonymized, is a pretty tough pill to swallow.
Net Neutrality is something that can shape up the industry in the United States for the better, if allowed to work. Telcos say that even without net neutrality they would self-regulate and abide by these unspoken rules, but we have the past to prove that the situation is nowhere near perfect and that they’ve throttled Internet speeds before for various reasons.
Hopefully, the FCC will take on the side of the millions of supporters of the concept, as well as that of countless tech companies in the United States, companies that hope someday amazing startups will appear to change the world and they won’t suffer due to the lack of net neutrality regulations.