Here's What a Country Without Net Neutrality Looks Like

Insert dial-up noise here. If you're not concerned about what's about to happen with net neutrality, you're not paying attention. 

Here's What a Country Without Net Neutrality Looks Like


On December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will try to get rid of net neutrality, after the Obama administration passed the “Open Internet Order” in 2015. The order ensures that internet service providers (ISPs) treat all legal online content equally and bans them from blocking, prioritizing, or slowing some of it as well as being paid by companies to do so.

Here is John Oliver explaining net neutrality in a much funnier fashion.

Net neutrality seems like an issue that should be supported by both political sides. As Julian Assange pointed out recently in a provocative tweet to Donald Trump, without net neutrality Trump’s opponents who own most internet companies could make his “tweets load slowly, CNN load fast and infest everyone's phones with their ads.”

Dear @realDonaldTrump: 'net neutrality' of some form is important. Your opponents control most internet companies. Without neutrality they can make your tweets load slowly, CNN load fast and infest everyone's phones with their ads. Careful.

— Julian Assange

The new FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, however, promised to do away with it and a few days ago released the final draft of the proposal to end net neutrality.

The main goal is to reverse the reclassification of ISPs from “telecommunications service” (under Title II of the Communications Act) to “information service” (under Title I of the Communications Act), which will strip the FCC from the power to regulate the internet gatekeepers. 

The reclassification happened in 2010 after the FCC wanted to impose net neutrality rules on ISPs, but was then successfully sued by Verizon, and the court pointed out that if the FCC wanted to have more regulatory power over ISPs, it needed to reclassify them. (Curiously, Ajit Pai used to be a lawyer for Verizon.)

What would it mean for the FCC to no longer have the same control over ISPs? Internet providers will be able to prioritize their own products and services over those of competitors by, for example, not counting them towards monthly data usage, or ensuring better traffic for them, or even by blocking competitors’ products, like in the infamous case of Verizon blocking Google Wallet

To get an idea, we can also look at Portugal, a country that—even though it is covered under EU's net neutrality rules—has found big enough loopholes in them. The country’s wireless carrier Meo requires users to pay additionally for apps and services they would like to use, like WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, and Messenger. Video apps are also offered as paid add-ons in a variety of bundles. 

This kind of set up could easily harm smaller companies. If, for example, Snapchat and Messenger are in different bundles, each of which is an additional $4.99 to your plan, it is very likely that you will choose to use only one. Also, small businesses won’t have the resources to pay providers to push their content or products to the top. They could potentially lose all internet traffic.

Ajit Pai says that repealing net neutrality is good for consumers because it will allow for more investment from telecoms, but that is a weak argument. Research suggests that it is precisely open competition and not lack thereof that causes higher investment. As The Economist points out, “declining competition does more than harm some consumers; it makes firms lazy.” 

Without net neutrality, telecoms won’t have to compete based on the quality of their products, but would be able to tie the hands and eyes of their customers to their products, whether or not the customers actually like them.

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California wrote on Twitter

"In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages. A huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people which stifles innovation. This is what's at stake, and that's why we have to save net neutrality."

The vote to repeal net neutrality regulations will happen on December 14th. Here are several ways to take action, compiled by Inverse.

 

 

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.

Lunar surface

Credit: Helen_f via AdobeStock
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