Neutering the net

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai arrives for an FCC meeting where they will vote on net neutrality regulations, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Know what I really love? I simply adore commenting on things about which I know absolutely nothing.

That’s my favorite. Ask anybody.

Indeed, I regularly get emails and calls from people asking, “Hey, Mark! Are you going to do another one of those columns this week about something you don’t even remotely comprehend?” Clearly, satisfied readers appreciate my freewheeling, uninformed approach to opinion pieces.

And so, to that end I give you …

Net neutrality.

• RELATED: FCC votes along party lines to end 'net neutrality'

Folks in the media have been blathering on about this hot topic for weeks, but I’ve somehow managed to successfully tune them out before their news reports got to the part where they actually explained what the term means. Which is why, to be completely frank, until about three days ago I thought “net neutrality regulations” had something to do with governing commercial fishing boats in international waters.

But as it turns out, this net neutrality debate strikes at the very core of who we are as technology-loving, 21st century Americans.

• RELATED: What is net neutrality and why does it matter?

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission repealed the set of Obama-era rules that prevent internet service providers (or ISPs) from wielding too much power over what their users see on the internet.

Under these “net neutrality” regulations — alluding to the principle that all web traffic be treated equally — ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T weren’t allowed to favor one website or app over another. Rather, they had to treat all web traffic equally, maintaining a level virtual playing field for companies big and small.

But now, the FCC has scrapped those rules.

On the surface, protecting consumers through net neutrality would seem to make perfect sense — until you realize such regulations are completely unnecessary. Why? Because these ISPs have already assured us they understand the importance of a free and open information superhighway and have no intention of selling the best access and speeds to the highest bidder.

“Trust us,” these companies reassure America. “We’ll do the right thing.”

And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the deregulation of all sorts of industries, it’s that large corporations always do the right thing. Especially when they’re not required to.

In other words, although these companies have lobbied hard for the right to be able to play favorites with the internet, they’re actually insisting — with straight faces — that they won’t. And yet, I can’t help asking: Why would, for example, a large energy company fight to ease fracking regulations if it didn’t have every intention of fracking the planet’s brains out?

While it’s certainly true I know almost nothing about net neutrality, I do know three very important facts:

• Fact No. 1 — If Comcast is in favor of something, chances are good I’m against it. As decades-long Comcast customers, my wife and I have had front-row seats to the billing-statement tomfoolery the cable and internet provider commits whenever it thinks subscribers aren’t looking. Everybody knows you’ve got to watch those people like a hawk, or they’ll quietly increase your universal connectivity charge, or tack on a subregional sports network fee, or impose a just-because-you’re-not-paying-attention-to-your-bill surcharge.

Still, representatives for Comcast continue to promise us that our internet experience won’t change as a result of the loosened regulations. Although, I wonder, are these the same Comcast representatives who kept promising me my internet bill wouldn’t go up? Or who swore a technician would be at my house sometime between 9 a.m. and noon on a Thursday?

• Fact No. 2 — Ditto for Donald Trump. If this president is insisting that the deregulation of these powerful ISPs is a good thing for Joe and Jane Sixpack, you can bet your motherboard it isn’t.

• Fact No. 3 — Despite what Comcast and Donald Trump would have us believe, the vast majority of Americans agree net neutrality is actually a good thing.

Ajit Pai, the buffoonish FCC chairman appointed by — who else? — President Trump, recently took to YouTube with a condescending, mocking video that basically tells us: “Don’t worry your pretty little heads, citizens. We haven’t broken the internet.”

And yet, that appears to be exactly what they’ve done.

Under the loosened regulations, ISPs can now show favoritism to certain websites and apps by slowing or blocking competitors — thus artificially limiting or manipulating the choices we make online. And while it may not have the same visceral impact as Patrick Henry’s famous “liberty” quote, internet activists everywhere are essentially crying: “Give me cute cat videos, or give me death.”

Thanks to a Republican-controlled FCC, there may not be much we can do about our scheming ISPs. However, we can do something about our current PSP (presidential service provider). Namely, putting in a much-needed repair-call order to fix a commander-in-chief on the fritz.

How does the first Tuesday in November — three years from now — work for everybody?

Say, sometime between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.?

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at

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