President-elect Donald Trump's transition into the presidency continued Monday with the announcement of new advisors to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These positions, perhaps understandably, received much less attention than his picks for what might be called sexier roles, like attorney general and secretary of state, However, the responsibilities they represent is still extremely important, however less famous they may be. Jeffrey Eisenach and Mark Jamison, Trump's FCC advisor selections, are noteworthy largely because they seem to indicate that the Trump administration's stance on net neutrality spells a dark future for supporters of that cause.
Net neutrality is a complicated issue, but if you love binge-watching Netflix as much as I do, it's definitely in your best interest to learn about it. Net neutrality is when internet service providers (ISPs) treat all web traffic equally in terms of speed and openness. Without net neutrality, your ISP could block websites from access or slow your connection to certain sites, which proponents of neutrality believe would damage the egalitarian nature of information sharing online. For example, an Internet provider could charge a website for the privilege of reaching its customers at faster speeds, meaning popular websites like YouTube might have to pay for your ability to access them.
ISPs could also, theoretically, charge you more to access certain websites, particularly popular ones — meaning your binge-watching habit could potentially get a lot more expensive.
Sadly, the cheap Netflix we all know and love may soon be a thing of the past: Trump's new FCC advisors are both staunch opponents of net neutrality. Both Eisenach and Jamison have ties to the telecom industry, which would likely profit significantly from the elimination of net neutrality. Moreover, they've both explicitly spoken out against net neutrality in the past: Eisenach called it "crony capitalism, pure and simple," and Jamison claimed that "Net neutrality is hindering the very innovations it is supposed to protect, creating undue scrutiny and threatening bans of pro-consumer services" in a 2016 paper, as reported by Forbes.
Others argue that getting rid of net neutrality would impede freedom of expression by creating a barrier to entry to compete on the Internet — and be the root of hindering innovation. If would-be website creators had to go through an ISP to ensure that their content was made available, it would be fundamentally harder to make and maintain websites. As Google stated in a release in support of net neutrality, "If Internet access providers can block some services and cut special deals that prioritize some companies' content over others, that would threaten the innovation that makes the Internet awesome."
It's hard to know exactly what Trump's plans are for net neutrality, since his team never released a technology plan, as Forbes' Larry Downes noted, but his FCC advisory appointments seem to be a major clue, as do his past attitudes about open speech and free media. Given that the president-elect has already at times blacklisted media outlets that ran unflattering coverage, called for alterations in libel laws to enable him to sue the press, and is currently in the middle of what amounts to a Twitter war with the The New York Times, advocates for digital freedom of speech certainly seem to have reason for concern.