Net neutrality: it's the issue that just won't go away, and for good reason, since it has the capacity for completely transforming the way the Internet works.
Remember the huge outcry over SOPA and PIPA, the 2011 bills introduced in the House and Senate that were designed to combat copyright infringement but were criticized as paving the way to an "internet blacklist" by their opponents? Tech companies lined up against the bills, and public support eventually led to their being shelved.
Supporters of net neutrality argue that service providers (and governments) should treat all traffic equally. In January, Verizon--which wants the ability to block traffic on local networks based on specific users' profiles and the particular services being accessed--succeeded in convincing a DC court to throw out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules. Just last month, the FCC voted 3-2 to open a public comments period on the issue, which hasn't gotten nearly the coverage and publicity that the SOPA/PIPA fight received.
John Oliver, the ex-"Daily Show" correspondent who now anchors his own much-lauded news show "Last Week Tonight" on HBO, is not OK with that. On Sunday, in a 13+ minute segment, while he admitted the issue isn't a sexy one--"The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are 'featuring Sting,' he joked--Oliver emphasized that the issue is "hugely important."
Without net neutrality, he warned, rich telecom companies could "buy their way into the fast lane, leaving everyone else in the slow lane." For instance, in February, Netflix's download speeds surged--right after Netflix conceded to demands from Comcast after negotiations between the two companies. "That has all the ingredients of a mob shakedown," Oliver said, urging his viewers--and Internet lovers everywhere--to go to the FCC's website and "focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction."
Well, it looks like Oliver's going to get his wish. His "Last Week Tonight" clip was widely shared on social media, wracking up more than 720,000 views on YouTube since Sunday. And take a look at these two tweets the FCC posted yesterday:
We’ve been experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system due to heavy traffic. We’re working to resolve these issues quickly.
— The FCC (@FCC) June 2, 2014
We’re still experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system. Thanks for your patience as we work to resolve the issues.
— The FCC (@FCC) June 2, 2014
The telecom companies have deep pockets and huge lobbying power in Washington: Verizon spent almost $14 million dollars lobbying lawmakers last year, and has spent more than $3.5 million this year. And as Oliver points out, they have an even more powerful tool at their disposal: "The cable companies have figured out the great truth of America: If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring."But the amount of public comment that Oliver's segment seems to have inspired is good news for open Internet advocates. Stay tuned--this issue is definitely not going away.
Watch John Oliver's full segment from "Last Week Tonight" below.