what is net neutrality

What Is Net Neutrality & Why Do We Need An Aaron Swartz?

You enjoy making free or sometimes low-cost calls on Skype. You enjoy buffer-free streaming of your favorite channels such as Netflix. And, you only get to pay only a few hundred bucks for all that…right?

Now, imagine a world after December 2017. You wake up one morning and with half-opened eyes you try to find your phone.

Just as another Internet savvy person, you open apps to check your profile status or listen to songs. But as soon as you tap and open the app, it goes on an endless loading loop.

You figure that it’s just bad Internet speed. So, you move on and continue your day. Next you go to your office and while doing your work you click your favorite songs app for some music.

Yet again, you find that you just can’t connect to your favorite apps or websites because they just stuck at loading…

You open the website of your broadband service provider for complaint but only to find that there’s a completely new pricing plan…a pricing structure that needs you to cough up more money for speed, for streaming, for downloading!

This is just a taste of the dark future of the Internet, overrun by obsessive governments, power-hungry politicians, and money-grabbing Telecos and broadband carriers.

This will be the future after the Death of Net Neutrality.

But, What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality comprises a set of policies that empower Internet users to use the Internet freely. According to the Net Neutrality rules:

  1. “Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  2. They may not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, application, services, or any classes thereof.
  3. They may not favor some internet traffic over other internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind — no paid prioritization or fast lanes.”

Since 2005 there have been many attempts to compromise Net Neutrality. However, in 2014, under the recommendation of former President Barack Obama, FCC reclassified Telecos as “common carriers”, thereby making the Internet a free space for users.

Why is Net Neutrality Being Repealed?

For the Internet users, it seems like the days of High-Speed Internet might be short-lived.

2017 saw the new elections for the next US President and to everyone’s shock, Donald Trump made the cut. As soon as the new President assumed power, expectedly the first thing he did was to appoint his choice of people on selected seats.

One such example is the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, aka FCC. His name is Ajit Pai.

Since the key to the Net Neutrality policy is the Title II act, it is on which Ajit Pai put all his focus and thus forwarded his Net Neutrality repeal proposal. The Title II act deems ISPs as “Utility Carriers” that effectively takes all the power from them.

Ajit Pai’s dream of the “Free Internet” starts with reverting the Title II act back to Title I which makes ISPs as “Information Services.”

Ajit Pai asserts,

“Title II has kept countless consumers from getting better Internet access or getting access, period. It is widening the digital divide in our country and accentuating the practice of digital redlining.”

He adds,

“Title II has already cost our country $5.1 billion in broadband capital investment. And given the multiplier effect from such spending, that means Title II has already cost our nation approximately 75,000 to 100,000 jobs.”

After returning to the Title I act, i.e., “to the light-touch regulatory framework”, Ajit Pai plans to “eliminate the so-called Internet conduct standard. This 2015 rule gives the FCC a roving mandate to micromanage the Internet.”

In November 2017, Ajit forwarded his complete plans for the Net Neutrality repeal.

The Consequences of Net Neutrality Repeal

After hearing Ajit’s appeal to kill Net Neutrality, you might be wondering why people are opposing the repeal. After all, as per Aji Pai’s proposal the new policy will help the government to grow investment and jobs opportunities.

Well that isn’t the complete picture at all. Is, and it most probably will, Pai’s proposal is approved on December 14, 2017, you will see:

  1. Paid Prioritization: It is a concept that you will worry about the most when Net Neutrality goes away. After December 2017, the broadband service providers will have all the power to control what website, application or any other service gets the most favor than the other…but not for free.

For instance, a broadband provider might ask streaming giants like Hulu or Amazon Prime to cough up big bucks if they wish to continue providing their services at optimal speed.

Likewise, the broadband service would also have the rights to provide “Faster Lanes” to its own streaming service than third-party services like Hulu.

When paid prioritization happens, you might not expect the same level of speed like you usually do only because either the streaming service didn’t pay extra bucks or your ISP preferred its own streaming service over other streaming service.

  1. Ridiculous Internet Packages: When paid prioritization rolls out, it won’t only affect popular websites, streaming channels and other online portals but consumers as well.

Consumers, such as you and I, will have to pay more bucks to get optimal speed for the services of our choice. After all, when broadband giants like Comcast puts Netflix on slow lanes, they will ask you to shell out extra bucks for faster streaming.

  1. Attack on Freedom of Speech: Yes, another crucial turning point in the history of the Internet would be the right to the freedom of expression or speech. Thanks to the Net Neutrality rules, you have the rights to convey your message or oppose a tyrannical figure through your voice on social media.

However, after the massacre of Net Neutrality, your rights to free speech would be left at the mercy of broadband service providers who are usually controlled by the government.

  1. Tough Time for Startups: Just as the plan to kill Net Neutrality would be unfavorable for the Internet users, it would be quite fatal for small companies or startups.

Since the playing field won’t be leveled anymore and established companies or web giants would always stay ahead by paying huge sums of money, smaller companies or startups will find it difficult to beat the competition without pay extra money, which they can’t afford to.

Here’s Why We Need a 21st Century Freedom Fighter like Aaron Swartz to Fight the Repeal

what is net neutrality

To fight this worst type of tyranny and reclaim your rights to the free Internet as well as free speech, we need someone with the willpower and determination of Aaron Swartz.

Aaron is someone who stood for the idea of Internet freedom and spent his youth protecting what he believed in…until the very end.

Today, we need another freedom fighter like Aaron who can unite once again the bloggers community, gamers, free speech advocates and tech giants to fight against the plan to destroy Net Neutrality as Aaron did during the crisis of SOPA/PIPA bills.

Who Was Aaron Swartz?

Born and brought up in the Suburb of Chicago, Highland Park, Aaron Swartz divulged in the study of computer programming and the Internet from a very early age. After all, Aaron’s father, Robert Swartz, was also a computer programmer and also the founder of a software house, Mark Williams Company.

Aaron attended high school until 10th grade when he left it and enrolled in a local college. His father says, ““Aaron was very, very fragile and very sensitive, and that amplified his difficulties.”

The Achievements of Aaron Swartz

Over his life time, Aaron gathered many achievements under his belt:

  • At the early age of 13, he won the ArsDigita Prize (for theinfo.org), which is awarded to young people who create a non-commercial website.
  • At the age of 14, Aaron became one of the authors of the RSS internet syndication standard.
  • At the age of 15, Aaron became a contributor for the Creative Commons copyright system.
  • By the age of around 19, he started working on a project called Infogrami, which was built as a CMS.
  • Later in 2005, Infogami merged with Reddit and thus Aaron become a co-owner.
  • Later in his life, Aaron created a secure website, Deaddrop (later turn into SecureDrop), where journalists, sources or whistleblowers could meet and exchange information anonymously.
  • Around the age of 24, Aaron became a Research Fellow at the most prestigious university, Harvard.

Why Did He Become an Internet Freedom Fighter?

John Naughton, a professor at the Open University, describes Aaron as someone who was more than a “prodigy” or an “immensely gifted programmer.” To him, Aaron was the “most technologically gifted political activist in history.”

While describing Aaron’s personality in his story on The Guardian, Naughton says,

“As he (Aaron) grew, one could see him becoming more and more interested in politics. And this too was predictable, for nobody with that razor-sharp intelligence could look at neoliberal capitalism and not see the unfairness, hypocrisy and inequality that lies beneath it.”

He added,

“He looked for instances of manifest unfairness and developed software to remedy it. Discovering that the provision of court transcripts in the US was essentially a commercial racket, he teamed up with other activists to right an obvious wrong: that the law was only readable by those with money.”

There is a fire inside all of us, just as there was in Aaron. A fire that sporadically jolts our conscience into the realization of right and wrong. However, in Aaron’s case, he didn’t ignore the calling of his conscience, unlike us.

Aaron stood for what he believed in. He believed in an open Internet. He believed in a free world.

He believed in The First Amendment to the United States Constitution that reads,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, when a force – no matter how overwhelming it may be – tries to trample a person’s beliefs, a person with the right conscience would go beyond his limits to fight against that force.

Aaron did just that when he saw how some powerful forces (government, corporate entities, etc.) tried to kill Internet freedom with ridiculous bills like Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

“There's a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens on the internet in terms of traditional things the law understands.”

“This bill would be a huge, potentially permanent, loss. If we lost the ability to communicate with each other over the Internet, it would be a change to the Bill of Rights. The freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution, the freedoms our country had been built on, would be suddenly deleted. New technology, instead of bringing us greater freedom, would have snuffed out fundamental rights we had always taken for granted.”

These were the words of Aaron Swartz uttered during a speech at F2C: Freedom to Connect 2012 event in Washington, D.C.

How Did He Fight Against the COICA or SOPA & PIPA?

What Aaron fought against in the early 2012 isn’t different than what we need to fight today, i.e., the Net Neutrality repeal.

Such bills pose a clear and present danger to our freedom, no matter in what form they are presented.

The Fight Against COICA Bill

It all started with the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which was introduced in the 2010. According to the bill, the attorney general of the United States could take action against any type of entity or domain name that is found involved in “infringing activities.”

And if found guilty, the domain name and any other service associated with it such as the registrar could "suspend operation of and lock the domain name."

However, there were countless holes in the bill as pointed out by Aaron. In the multi-authored book, Hacking Politics, while talking about the bill, Aaron said,

“This was something radically different. It wasn't that the government went to people and asked them to take down particular material that was illegal. It shut down whole websites. Essentially, it stopped Americans from communicating entirely with certain other groups.”

He said,

“If you wanted to censor the Internet, if you wanted to come up with a way the government could shut down access to particular websites — this bill might just be the only way to do it.”

He added,

“And that was terrifying, because copyright was absolutely everywhere. If you wanted to shut down WikiLeaks, it'd be a bit of a stretch to claim you were doing it because they were distributing child pornography. But it wouldn't be hard at all to claim they were violating copyright.

Because everything is copyrighted. These words are copyrighted. And it's so easy to accidentally copy something. So easy, in fact, that we found the leading Republican supporter of COICA, Orrin Hatch, had illegally copied a bunch of code into his own Senate website. If even Orrin Hatch's Senate website was found to be violating copyright law, what's the chance they wouldn't be able to pin something on any of us?”

With all those holes, watering the sprouts of the Internet censorship, Aaron took it upon himself to fight the injustice, and this is what led him to start an online petition through Demand Progress.

In just a short span of time, Aaron and other activists successfully gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures against the COICA bill. The signers also began calling the Congress and plead to stop the bill from being rolled out.

Due to the overwhelming opposition from activists, online communities, tech companies and also a Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, the bill was killed.

The Fight Against SOPA and PIPA Bill

Not long after, the Congress revised the COICA bill and named it the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The government didn’t stop there. Just after the PIPA bill, U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) tried to hammer our Internet freedom with yet another bill, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

The bills were, though, proposed to penalized or shutdown infringing websites outside the US jurisdiction. However, the Internet and technology firms, content aggregator websites, free-speech activists and other concerned individuals foresaw many severe consequences:

  • The different scopes regarding the copyright infringement were not well-defined in the bill which could lead to the “take down” of websites without difficulty, notification, dialogue, etc.
  • One of the perceived consequences that were foresaw included the undermining of free speech rights, destruction of online communities and websites filled with user-generated content
  • There were also technical problems with the bill that made many experts oppose it. For instance, experts believed that the proposed changes to DNS could conflict with the tenets of the Internet and make the infrastructure more vulnerable to malicious attacks.

While talking about the infringement laws presented in the bill, Google’s public policy director, Bob Boorstin, mentioned that websites like Youtube that have a plethora of user-generated content “would just go dark immediately.”

Since the fire had already been lit by the early endeavors of Aaron Swartz and his crusade, the day came when something wonderful happened.

  • 8 million people turned to Wikipedia to check their representatives.
  • 3 million emails in opposition to the bills were sent to the Congress.
  • 1 million messages sent via EFF.
  • 4.5 million Petitions signed at Google.
  • 2.4 million Tweets generated on SOPA issue.

More prominently, the Internet went dark…for the protest.

A plethora of websites took part in the “blackout” to oppose the bill including giants like:

  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Wikia
  • WordPress
  • Free Press
  • Gamesradar
  • Mozilla
  • And more…

With such overwhelming opposition, the government had nothing left to do than shelving the bill which they did ultimately.

Why We Need Him? What Could He Have Done In The Recent Net Neutrality And Online Privacy Crisis?

After the successful elimination of the SOPA/PIPA bill, Aaron stated,

“We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom. They threw themselves into it. They did whatever they could think of to do. They didn’t stop to ask anyone for permission.”

Though the “boy genius” appreciated everyone who took part in the crusade, he was actually the one who took it as his job to fight for our collective freedom. He was the first to nominate himself for this mission. And, he was the first who went all the way to amass a huge number of people who helped him overthrow such outlandish bills.

So, even if we can’t think of something out of the box to fight against the repeal of Net Neutrality, we could at least follow the same footsteps of Aaron.

  • If Aaron were alive today, he would have started another petition for Net Neutrality.
  • He would have taken his appeal to the Congress and make every effort to make them notice the severe holes in the bill.
  • Started amassing fellow bloggers, tech influencers, online community owners and other online activists to raise their concerns.
  • Made another inspiring move like the “Internet Blackout” to make their concerns reach the government.

10 Ways You Can Show Your Support for Net Neutrality

Here are some ways you can raise your voice and get it heard for Net Neutrality.

  1. Click here for the Google Spreadsheet in which you can find Senators of your respective State. Tweet and remind them that they have a duty to fulfill.

  1. Sign the petition against Net Neutrality repeal at the following link: Click Here
  1. Find your representative and call them up in Congress: Click Here
  1. Send your comments directly to the FCC by Clicking Here
  1. Spread the awareness on social platforms such as Twitter, using hashtags #WeAreAaronSwartz & #SaveNetNeutrality
  1. Donate the organizations fighting hard for Net Neutrality such as Demand Progress
  1. Join protests against the repeal near your locality. You can find nearby protests through the map here: Click Here
  1. If you run a blog or have a mobile app with a decent number of audience, you can place banners or use popups to show your support
  1. Stay tuned for the protest on Dec 13th which will be organized by the Defend Net Neutrality team. Join their cause.
  1. Learn more about your online rights and what you can do to take back the Internet.

 

What Solutions Would He Have Recommended If He Were Here Right Now?

There’s a high chance that the FCC chairman will have his way with Net Neutrality repeal on December 14, 2017…if nothing is done to stop it.

When that happens, what tools can we use to survive the doom of the Internet?

Since Net Neutrality repeal poses a threat to your online freedom to access content and enjoy using the Internet with the same speed and performance as you are doing today, here are some effective tools that you can use:

Proxy Service

Proxy services can be a vital solution to survive in the era of no net neutrality. These services come with anonymous public IPs that users can use to hide their real identity, access censored content and more.

TOR

TOR is yet another solution that you can turn to when it comes to accessing restricted content without letting anyone getting a hint of your real identity.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

When the Telecos and Internet service providers have their way, they would not only throttle your Internet speed but also control what content you can access or not access.

Here, a VPN can help you overcome the content restrictions placed by your ISP or broadband carriers. VPN gives you a plethora of anonymous IPs you can use to mask you real identity and get past content restrictions.

Combined with anonymity and security features like anonymous IPs and 256-bit encryption, a VPN makes an ideal tool to survive the impending apocalypse.

Final Thoughts

While putting our thoughts together for this piece, I found that Aaron Swartz was an unimaginably strong Internet fighter with a pure conscience…a conscience that craved freedom.

Although we are not Aaron Swartz but every one of us has a conscience. It’s only a matter of time until we realize the burning conscience within us and use it fight for our online freedom, which is being threatened today by hungry corporates.

We can be the next Aaron Swartz!

In fact, we can all become him starting today…starting now.

Tweet this article with #WeAreAaronSwartz & #SaveNetNeutrality












An information security analyst in the making, a father of an adorable kid and a technology writer (Contributor). He can be found lurking around top network security blogs, looking for scoops on information security and privacy trends.

1 Comment
  1. Martin Lindeskog says:

    Mohsin,

    Have you heard about Mark Cuban’s take on the Net Neutrality? I recommend you to read Robert Trancinski’s piece, Net Neutrality: Yes, Mark Cuban, Atlas Is Shrugging.

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