Senate vote one tiny step

Net neutrality, for a genealogist, is not a political issue.

The Legal Genealogist has said it before: this, for us, is a pocketbook issue, and one that is likely to impact every one of us both in terms of what we can access and what we’ll have to pay for it.1

So it was encouraging to see yesterday’s 52-to-47 vote in the United States Senate to preserve net neutrality and repeal a controversial Federal Communications Commission ruling to dismantle it.2

But despite yesterday’s vote in favor of the people’s interests, I’m sure I’m going to have to say it again: net neutrality, for a genealogist, is not a Red State-Blue State matter — it’s a “will we have access and at what price matter”.

Because yesterday’s vote was in only one house of Congress, and there’s a long, long road ahead if we’re to have any hope at all of restoring net neutrality rules.

Here’s what net neutrality is — and why it’s important to those of us who live on our computers and our internet connections, like you and me and so many in our genealogical community.

Net neutrality rules mean that internet service providers — the cable companies and wireless firms like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others — have to treat all content on the internet the same way. They can’t charge more to a content provider like, say, The Legal Genealogist, to show up in your daily email or on your screen, and they can’t charge you more for access to, say, Netflix.

Net neutrality rules mean that content providers who can’t afford to pay big bucks still get the same bandwidth as content providers who can afford it.

Think FamilySearch as a free website on one side, and your choice of Big Genealogy Subscription website as a pay service on the other side. With net neutrality rules, both get the same right to send data out on the web, and you get access to both the same way. Without net neutrality rules, the service providers could throttle the free one back in favor of the paid service, or make you pay more for one than the other.

Net neutrality rules also mean the service providers can’t charge us more as individual consumers depending on what kind of content we get on the web. Think YouTube videos from the National Archives on one side, and Netflix on the other. With net neutrality rules, both get the same right to send data out on the web, and you get access to both the same way. Without net neutrality rules, the service providers could throttle the free one back in favor of the paid service, or make you pay more for one than the other.

This even applies to email. With net neutrality rules, anyone who emails you gets the same right to send that email out on the web, and you get access to both the same way. Without net neutrality rules, the service providers could throttle email from, say, your cousins back in favor of emails from advertisers who paid for faster access, or make you pay more for one than the other.

The FCC voted along party lines last December to end these protections. The rule changes began taking effect in April, with some technical aspects rolling in, but the heart of the repeal of net neutrality won’t kick in until June.

Yesterday’s vote was to roll back the FCC action, but it still requires action in the House of Representatives — a tough fight — and an even tougher fight to convince the White House to go along.

It may be that the best chance of saving net neutrality is in the courts: nearly half the states have joined in a lawsuit against the FCC.

But there is that window of opportunity with our Congressional representatives: we can urge them to protect our interests, and refuse to let corporate interests win yet another battle against the people.

And if all else fails, remember that every member of the House of Representatives is up for election in November — and we can remind them all that we’re genealogists, and we vote.

To learn more, check out the video “The Internet is Dead without Net Neutrality,” and to help, the website for action is Battle for the Net.

Because if we lose this one in the long run, you may well someday soon face an announcement like this right here at The Legal Genealogist:


SOURCES

  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Genealogy and net neutrality,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Dec 2017 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 16 May 2018).
  2. See ibid., “FCC vs. the people: we lost,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 Dec 2017.
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