Net Neutrality Roundtable with Donyae Coles, Mallory Locklear and Michael Hiltzik

Below is the transcript of XRAY In The Morning’s roundtable on Net Neutrality with Donyae Coles, Mallory Locklear and Michael Hiltzik. The roundtable broadcast can be heard here.

For more Net Neutrality analysis, check out XRAY’s own Radio Survivor episode “Making Sense of the FCC’s Effort to Kill Net Neutrality.” Radio Survivor’s Paul Riismandel also spoke on XITM with Emily Gilliland which can be be found here

Donyae Coles wrote “The Attack on Net Neutrality is an Attack on Marginalized People” for Wear Your Voice. 

Mallory Locklear wrote “The FCC is Pedaling Net Neutrality Spin as Facts” for Engadget. 

Michael Hiltzik wrote “Portugal’s internet shows us a world without net neutrality, and it’s ugly” for the Los Angeles Times. 


Jefferson Smith: The federal government, under the auspice of the FCC, is deciding whether to control the speeds of which websites can load, or charge websites for faster speeds. Why should we care? Why should we care about net neutrality? Donyae Coles, author of the article, The Attack on Net Neutrality is an Attack on Marginalized People. Good morning, Donyae.

Donyae Coles: Good morning.

JS: Mallory Locklear wrote, The FCC is Pedaling its Net Neutrality Spin as Facts. Good morning, Mallory.

Mallory Locklear: Good morning.

JS: And we have Michael Hiltzik, the author of Portugal’s Internet Shows Us a World Without Net Neutrality, and It’s Ugly. Good morning, Michael.

Michael Hiltzik: Good morning.

JS: All right. We’ve got Donyae, we’ve got Mallory, we got Michael. Let’s start with Donyae. How would the loss of net neutrality effect marginalized groups?

Donyae Coles: Well, what we’re seeing online right now is that a lot of marginalized groups are using the internet to really connect and mobilize and advocate for themselves. So a lot of this is going through Facebook and Twitter as the front face of this, and those services probably will not be as heavily affected by this law as what happens on the backend, which is when we’re starting to get more into … Excuse me. More into more independent media sources. So places like where I had the article published, Wear Your Voice, Everyday Feminism, sites like that really won’t have the ability to continue to function under the new net neutrality, which is no net neutrality laws and regulations.

In addition to that, a lot of the resources that are out there on the net are all in these small independent websites. Sometimes they are just single people who have put up information for others. They will no longer be able to be accessed, because they absolutely will not have the funds to sort of get into that fast lane, so these will be harder to find. They will be harder to access. And then the actual users, so people like me and you and everyone in this world won’t be able to access those either, because they may not have the funds to really put towards more service.

There’s a huge gap in the amount in the access that we have to our internet providers around the country. Those huge price gaps between people, so your cheap service might be like 55 bucks, but then your only other option is like $150 a month. So adding more money on that, especially when you’re already paying more than what you can maybe afford will make people not … Will create a situation where people just cannot access, and therefore we’re losing that ability to make communities, to mobilize, to disseminate information between people who need it.

JS: Understood. Mallory, you break down FC Chair Pai’s arguments, Ajit Pai’s arguments for killing net neutrality. What’s he getting wrong?

Mallory Locklear: Well, part of the problem is that the way they presented all this information about what’s going to happen once these regulations are removed. They’re presenting these things as fact, as the internet will remain free and open. There won’t be fast lanes. There won’t be slow lanes. And they put all that in a document earlier this week that they separated these concerns people have over the removal of these regulations that they labeled them as myths, and then they gave their responses to state they were fact. But, you know, they’re just not facts. The FCC can’t ensure that the internet is going to remain free and open or that fast lanes won’t happen or that throttling won’t happen, because they’re removing the very regulations that are keeping those things from happening now.

So to kind of keep presenting this argument that like, “Nothing’s gonna change. Everything’s gonna be great,” is just misleading is a generous term for it. These aren’t facts. These are possibilities. Sure, things could stay the same, but that is not a guarantee, and they’re presenting that as a guarantee, and that’s a big problem.

JS: Donyae, back to you. So you make the good case. And I remember back in doing voter registration research and mobilization research, the Latino community, for instance, had a higher density of usage of cell phones than young Caucasian voters. And there was, in lots of community of color for instance, significant usage of data plans as part of life. And your point is it’s already really expensive. This could make it more expensive. Which websites won’t have … We use the internet as a highway metaphor, which websites won’t have access to the fast lane? Give me a little bit granular, I know we don’t have a ton of time, but a little more granular on who gets hosed here.

Donyae Coles: So the websites that won’t have a fast lane who will not be able to be accessed. We’re looking at websites like Rest For Resistance, which is a queer-trans POC support system. We’re looking at websites that are run by people who have disabilities to share information about their disabilities, which are usually just private blogs. They won’t have access anymore. A lot of your feminist social justice media like Wear Your Voice, Everyday Feminism, they probably will not be able to remain active anymore, because they just don’t have the funds. They already don’t have the funds, and now they’re not gonna have this extra money to put towards the fast lane. They will be put towards the back.

You’re also probably going to see just a lot of the more … Not private, but independent media, especially on the left and some on the right, too, which is really interesting, because this is a situation that affects both sides, will not be able to access that fast lane. Places like Occupy Democrats, which isn’t a great website at all, they won’t have that sort of access anymore, and they won’t be able to fair this [inaudible 00:05:51]. Even though I strongly suggest fact checking anything you read there, that’s still a lot of peoples’ frontline to see, “Hey, something’s going on. Something’s wrong.” And those sites will no longer have that access anymore, and people will not be able to see those stories.

JS: That’s Donyae Coles. I want to also ask Mallory. And, Michael, in just a moment I want to get to you and ask about Portugal. But Mallory Locklearr, talking about the FCC’s spin Ajit Pai’s arguments. Ajit Pai argues that his proposal will return to the internet to its free and open pre-2015 state. Is that an accurate claim?

Mallory Locklear: I mean, it’ll return it to the reduced regulations of pre-2015. It won’t necessarily return it to what the internet was pre-2015. I mean, the FCC can’t guarantee what’s gonna happen with internet service providers once these regulations are removed. But presenting it as, “Nothing’s gonna change, everything’s gonna be great,” but the problem is they just can’t guarantee that, and they keep saying it over and over that everything’s gonna be good, there will not be fast lanes or slow lanes. But on the one hand, they’re saying [inaudible 00:06:58] gonna happen. On the other hand they’re saying, “Yes, they do happen.” If these service providers do create fast lanes and slow lanes, they at least have to tell you about it. Isn’t that great? So their own argument is kind of contradicting itself. So, yeah. That’s a really big problem.

JS: Michael, let’s get to you. I want to ask about Portugal, because one of the questions here as we listen to Mallory talk about conjecture of what might happen if the rule change does happen and we hunt for examples. The internet isn’t so old. You have looked at another country who’s engaged in this policy debate and has some outcomes and results. What happened in Portugal?

Michael Hiltzik: Sure. And it’s not just Portugal. It’s other countries in Europe including Great Britain. What’s happened there is that because national regulators have a lot of leeway, even though the European Union accepts net neutrality, in Portugal and in the UK what we see is internet service providers offering their customers specialized tiers where you pay a little bit extra, then you get a lot of data for certain applications. You can buy, for example, a social media tier in which you get unlimited data to use Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. Now, the problem … That sounds pretty good if you are a big social media user. The problem is who decides which applications get on that tier?

If you’re Facebook or Twitter, great. You’re on that tier. If you are not, how do you get on that tier? And it’s the ISP that decides. The ISP has full authority to exclude any application it wants. So it can exclude an up and coming application. It can exclude an application that doesn’t want to pay a fee to be on that tier, and we can see that. There are also tiers for video where you can get Netflix or Amazon Prime but maybe not some other application that you might want, but it’s just not available.

JS: If listeners have questions-

Michael Hiltzik: So we see that. And we would see that under these rules.

JS: If listeners have questions you can text at 971-220-5979. It’s 971-220-5979 if you have questions on net neutrality. We’re talking to three people who know about it, Donyae Coles, Mallory Locklearr, Michael Hiltzik. All right, Michael, in Portugal did we see noticeable effects on the internet culture there? And what’s zero rating?

Michael Hiltzik: Well, I don’t know if we’ve seen … We’ve certainly seen these new offers appear. Zero rating basically means that if you use a certain application, it doesn’t account against your data cap. So if, for example, in the US where we do have zero rating, if you get your internet from Time Warner Cable or Comcast, often you are capped in terms of how much data you can put through, especially on a wireless system over a month. And if you go over that, then you get a serious slow down. Zero rating means that if you use certain applications that have made a deal with that ISP, it doesn’t count against your data cap. And once again, we have the problem of how do you get onto that? How do you gate your zero rating right if you are an application? What do you have to pay to get that, and what I you don’t have the money …

What if you were a young application or a startup, and you don’t have the money, or you don’t want to pay? How can you make sure that you get the same access to the ISP’s customers that the big guys have? Essentially what’s gonna happen here is that the big guys are going to more and more dominate content distribution and content production. You’re gonna see Google, which owns … I’m sorry, which owns YouTube. Sure, they’re gonna pay a fee to be zero rated. Netflix will pay a fee. The FCC, after the 2015 regulation for net neutrality allowed zero rating programs to be in existence, but they said, “We’re gonna look at these on a case by case basis once they’re implemented. And the staff of the FCC, just before Trump took over, issued a report saying that AT&T and Verizon were both abusing those regulation by giving their own applications zero rating rights at prices that were much lower than they were charging, say, competitors like Netflix.

JS: So zero rating-

Michael Hiltzik: That’s gonna be a problem, because we have a world today in which there are fewer and fewer ISPs. They have larger and larger monopolies, and they also have their own services. And as they begin to favor their own services, then everybody else gets excluded.

JS: So zero rating essentially is, that’s like free data? It’s not really free, but it gets to be transmitted free. And am I understanding correctly that Donyae, part of your concern is the groups you’re talking about won’t have the dough to buy themselves zero rating?

Donyae Coles: Yes.

JS: All right. That was helpful. Or at least … Maybe hurtful to democracy, but helpful for me to understand the attack on democracy. Let me ask this. Mallory, what are we most confident? You say that, “Well, Ajit Pai is saying a bunch of stuff, advocate for getting rid of net neutrality,” all these fake bots that went to put in comments into the FCC regulatory record or making arguments based on speculation. As you speculate or as you understand, what are you most confident about is gonna happen or change?

Mallory Locklear: Well, I think we will … I think probably we will see changes. I mean, we’ve already seen companies start to creep on net neutrality practices. So those zero rating scheme. That’s not really in the spirit of net neutrality. You also have, you know, Comcast has the ability to prioritize its own certain services. Time Warner, Verizon, Comcast is all gonna keep just throttling Netflix at one point or another. So these things have been happening while net neutrality regulations were in place. So what’s gonna happen when we remove them? It opens up a lot of possibilities, and they’re not all good.

So what you have to keep in mind when you’re thinking about this whole conversation is right now the power’s with the FCC, but they’re gonna give that power over to your internet service providers, and do you trust those providers to do the right thing? Do you trust them to make decisions in your best interest, in the internet’s best interest? If you trust them, them maybe you don’t have a problem with it. But if you don’t trust them, then you should really be looking very, very closely at this regulation removal.

JS: Michael, any other lessons from Europe?

Michael Hiltzik: I think the lessons are that if you take regulations off, you are going to get incumbent ISPs taking advantage. Europe doesn’t have anywhere near the monopolization of ISPs that we have in the US, but this is a warning that things will be much worse here.

JS: So the near monopolies, the oligopoly of ISPs are who? Comcast? Keep going.

Michael Hiltzik: Well, Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are the big ones. It’s not really an oligopoly. It’s basically a series of monopolies. If you’re in most communities in the United States-

JS: You only have one choice.

Michael Hiltzik: … you really have only one real choice of an ISP. It’s your local cable provider, because everybody else is slower and more expensive than your cable guy. So Comcast in regions where it’s a cable provider really has an effective monopoly over internet service. There is some communities where there’s fiber that’s provided by what used to be Verizon or AT&T, but there has not really been a large scale rollout of fiber across the United States. So these ISPs, these three big ISPs, really are gonna become major gatekeepers of the internet.

JS:  You’re listening to KXRY Portland. Talking to Michael Hiltzik, Mallory Locklearr, Donyae Coles about net neutrality. Let me ask this. My fear is that net neutrality was over on election day in 2016. Is getting rid of net neutrality inevitable? Who wants to go first?

Michael Hiltzik: Well, I’ll go first, and I’ll say I do not think it’s inevitable. I think we’ve even seen some republicans in congress start to address concerns over the pace of this change. I think certainly there are consumer advocates who are raising the alarm. I don’t think this fight is over at all.

JS:  Mallory, do you think the FCC’s decision has been made in their own minds? And if they make it, as I fear that they will, what happens after that?

Mallory Locklear: Well, I do think on December 14th when the FCC votes for this, they are gonna vote in favor of removing these protections. They’ve been voting a long party lines for two votes now, and everybody’s [inaudible 00:16:31] this path. But I agree. I think that there is a chance for congress to step in. There’s legislation does have a role here, and there is a way to kind of veer around these things through legislation, so it is a hope. Whether that’ll happen or not, we’re not quite sure. But all we can do is keep speaking up about it and hope people start to listen.

JS: Donyae, after December 14th, what do you think the role is of the activist community or what do you think the next steps are from the activist community to either keep this issue going, make it an issue in congressional races, or try to change the landscape of at least the debate and maybe even policy going forward?

Donyae Coles: I really think that going forward, because as the other two speakers have said, I really think that this might actually pass because of our current political climate. But I think going forward we need to remember that this is still a battle that we have to go back to. Even if it passes, there’s still chances to change it. There’s still chances for other people to step in and say, “Hey, no, we’re not gonna do this.” But the important thing is to not lose sight of it as an issue going forward, and that’s really what our activist groups and the people who are trying to make a change in the world, we have to remember that this is still an issue even though it’s been quote, unquote decided on. And that means bringing it up, remembering, “Hey, this is how we have to [inaudible 00:17:54]. These are the things we need to do.” And really just working towards finding new ways to communicate and decimate information, because it’s going to get much harder for all of us [inaudible 00:18:05].

JS: Let me ask, and we’re about to wrap. If someone were to say, “You know what? I don’t really care about this issue,” or, “It’s kind of technical, or, “Isn’t this really just a battle between billionaires at Google and Facebook and billionaires at Comcast and AT&T? Why does it matter?” Why does it matter to somebody who doesn’t already think it matters?

Donyae Coles: You know what? I feel like a lot of people have that attitude about it. They’re like, “I don’t read those websites. I just go to work and get on Facebook and play my Facebook games.” And that’s fine, but we all use the internet, and I just think that everyone should sit down and really think about how they use the internet. Think about not just getting on Facebook, but that time you found that awesome recipe that your family loves or that time you found that CD from the 90’s that you lost on some obscure website. We all have these stories where we have found or we have made a community or connected with someone outside of our major Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, or social media network. And I think that people need to be reminded of that, and they should try and think of that as a larger whole, because once we lose net neutrality, all of those magical finding moments, they’re going away. We’re not gonna have them anymore.

JS: Michael, what didn’t I ask that I should’ve?

Michael Hiltzik: Well, I think there’s something that I just want to stress here, and that is that as much as Chairman Pai wants to go back to some mythical world of deregulation or right regulation, it’s mythical. We had in the past on the internet, we had net neutrality that was enforced by competition among ISPs. There were hundreds of ISPs, and they all competed with each other to make sure that their subscribers got the best service. Now we only have effectively three, and that’s why we need government regulation to keep the state of the internet the way it was in the past, which is what he says he wants, but he’s going to change it. He’s trying to go back to a world that never existed.

JS: Is there anything we can do to pry open that competition again?

Michael Hiltzik: Well, I think there’s certainly regulations and laws that can be passed to allow new ISPs to use the existing trunk lines that are, at this point, controlled by these three incumbent ISPs, but it’s who we need. We need more aggressive regulators, and we need smarter legislatures.

JS: Mallory, anything you want to plug?

Mallory Locklear: Just that… right now is a time to be speaking up. This is a time to be fighting. This isn’t the end. So keep voicing this. Keep learning about it. Keep speaking out about things that you aren’t happy with, because once this happens there are gonna be some changes, and like he said, these are a series of monopolies, and you’re not gonna have the chance to speak up by changing your internet service provider, because you can’t. So now is the time to be making sure they don’t do these things ahead of time, not to get stuck with these slow lane and fast lanes later on, because you won’t really have much you can do through your internet service providers once those actually happen.

JS: That was Mallory Locklear, wrote the article, “The FCC is Pedaling Net Neutrality Spin as Facts”. Donyae Coles, thank you to you, who wrote “The Attack on Net Neutrality is an Attack on Marginalized People,” and Michael Hiltzik, “Portugal’s Internet Showing a World Without Net Neutrality.” Thank all three of you for joining us.

Donyae Coles: Thank you.

Mallory Locklear: Thank you.

Michael Hiltzik: Thank you.

JS: Perfectly timed. This is XRAY. Radio’s yours.