Net neutrality has become one of the most defining legal and political issues of the digital age. Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should allow equal access to all internet-based content and applications without favoring or blocking certain websites or services. The big players of the telecom industry would like to change all that, but many grassroots organizations have sprung up to stand up for a neutral internet. Yesterday, however, one of those organizations received a cease and desist letter from one of the biggest and most hated names in the telecom industry: Comcast.
According to a Reddit post by user u/evanFTFF, Comcast’s lawyers sent the letter to the operators of Comcastroturf.com, accusing them of infringing on Comcast’s trademarks. That site is run by the group Fight for the Future, a non-profit organization founded in 2011 who states its mission is “to ensure that the web continues to hold freedom of expression and creativity at its core.” The group launched Comcastroturf.com to highlight the “astroturfing” practices it claims Comcast uses: signing Federal Communication Commission (FCC) anti-net neutrality dockets using falsified names. According to Comcastroturf.com, Comcast has a long and well-documented history of such deceptive astroturfing practices:
There is a long sordid history of the telecom industry funding shady “astroturf” organizations to poison the political process and do their dirty work. In 2014, telecom allies even submitted suspicious emails to Congress. If companies like Comcast are funding this type of shady activity, their customers and the general public deserve to know about it. If they’re not funding it, they should condemn these fake comments and tell the FCC to disregard them.
Just hours after the cease and desist letter was sent, Comcast retracted its threats of legal action. Obviously, the debate over net neutrality is of great importance for anyone with internet access. The web has been a rather democratic and open medium since its launch, allowing equal access to netizens regardless of ISP or usage patterns. Of course, the inventors of the first televisions intended that technology to be entirely peer-to-peer, and we all know how that turned out.
Unless groups like FFTF are successful, we might see an end to the free web as we know it. Soon, you might have to choose your ISP based on which streaming services or websites you’d like to have access to. If you live in an area with limited options, you could be out of luck.
There’s always the library – for now.
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