In response to the repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, California and other states are putting their own laws into action. Proponents argue that this is a necessary step in order to protect us from Internet Service Providers seeking to exploit consumers. Opponents of net neutrality argue that the rules create an artificial business environment and actually harm consumers. These challenges have pointed to a recent incident in California in which ISPs have warned that they may have change service provided to veterans via a telehealth app.
Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should treat all communication the same. The concerns over manipulated Internet service peaked during the Obama administration with the belief that ISPs were creating fast lanes and slow lanes. Netflix, for instance, would have to pay more for a fast lane, a cost that would be passed on to the consumer, and cable companies might also manipulate speeds on services like Hulu and Amazon Prime in order to encourage you to uncut the cord.
Potential Drawbacks of Net Neutrality
Detractors have long suggested that the need for net neutrality is based on fears founded on a misunderstanding of how the Internet works. They would say that net neutrality has never existed during the modern age of the Internet and never really could. Video streams, for instance, have always received preferential treatment over email and other data that is less time-sensitive. The detractor would say that the real problem is a lack of competition among ISPs and that this artificial environment only leads to the problems like those experienced in California where the Department of Veteran Affairs is worried it cannot offer free, subsidized service to the veterans that use its app.
Filling the Void Left by the Repeal
In 2015, the FCC voted in favor of rules to enforce net neutrality and keep the Internet “open and free.” Under the Trump administration, those rules were repealed. That left states like California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington scrambling to fill the void. California was the first to do so.
Issues With the California Law
But not everyone is pleased with the outcome. Even some proponents of the California law suggest that this particular law is poorly implemented and does not achieve the wanted results. Those not in favor of the law point to the recent issue in California in which at least two major internet providers have contacted the state and expressed concerns that they may not be able to continue providing the same service to veterans.
Is This Really a Net Neutrality Issue?
One could argue that this is more a problem with the law itself than net neutrality on the whole. Most who are in favor of net neutrality dislike the concept of sponsored data programs but can appreciate the nuance of providing free access to the VA for low-income and older veterans. The Obama-era FCC never included specific provisions that would block a program such as this one.
The Road Ahead
The two California ISPs are absolutely using this situation to their advantage in order to shed a negative light on a law they do not want. That said, the VA problem is real and could end up affecting thousands perhaps millions of veterans who receive help through the VA Video Connect app. It is unlikely the California law will go away just yet, but it definitely needs to be amended sooner than later.