U.S. bishops: ‘Net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function’

Demonstrators join a "protect net neutrality" rally in San Francisco in September 2017. Photo courtesy of wikicommons. Demonstrators join a "protect net neutrality" rally in San Francisco in September 2017. Photo courtesy of wikicommons.  

To the digitally uninitiated the issue of net neutrality may seem an arcane dispute best resolved deep down somewhere in a Reddit conference folder, but for free-speech and open-access advocates, the protection of the so-called open internet has become a white-hot worry this week. In a statement released today, the U.S. bishops expressed their own reservations about how the end of net neutrality could affect what might be described as the digital common good.

“Strong net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function and connect with our members, essential to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology and necessary for any organization that seeks to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded and over-commercialized media environment,” said Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Communications. Speaking on behalf of U.S. bishops, he urged the retention of the current open internet policies in the wake of a Federal Communications Commission draft proposal unveiled last week that would repeal those protections.

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“Robust internet protections,” Bishop Coyne said, “are vital to enable our Archdioceses, Dioceses, and Eparchies, our parishes, schools and other institutions to communicate with each other and our members, to share religious and spiritual teachings, to promote activities online, and to engage people—particularly younger persons—in our ministries.”

“Without open internet principles...we might be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the internet.”

The concept of an open internet has long been called “net neutrality.” Under that digital protocol big internet service providers such as Verizon or Comcast neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites. Ending such neutrality could mean that internet bandwidth will be divvied up among the internet players with the deepest pockets instead of shared freely among web surfers and site publishers. Consumers could, in the end, be forced to pay extra to maintain access to services and websites they are most interested in.

“Without open internet principles which prohibit paid prioritization, we might be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the internet,” Bishop Coyne said in his statement. He argues that non-profit communities, both religious and secular, “cannot afford to pay to compete with profitable commercialized content.”

F.C.C. Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Trump administration appointee who has previously worked as a corporate attorney for Verizon, on Nov. 21 followed through on a pledge to repeal net neutrality regulations enacted under the Obama administration. The current rules treat internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon as if they were utility companies that provide essential services like electricity and mandate that they give equal access to all online content and apps.

Mr. Pai argues this policy discourages investments that could provide even better and faster online access. “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”

With three Republican and two Democratic members, the F.C.C. is expected to approve Mr. Pai’s plan at a commission meeting scheduled for Dec. 14.

Many free-speech advocates express deep concerns about Mr. Pai’s position. An interreligious advocacy group, Faithful Internet, has been pushing back against proposals to end net neutrality since 2015 and is sponsoring an online petition asking that the current proposal be abandoned. “In this critical time, we need net neutrality now more than ever to fight and defend the future of our democracy,” the group argues. “Our marches, vigils, petitions, and calls to action depend on organizing on an open Internet.”

The A.C.L.U. deplored the proposal as a “quest for profits and corporate disfavor of controversial viewpoints” that “could change both what you can see on the internet and the quality of your connection. And the incentive to monitor what you do online in order to play favorites means even more consumer privacy invasions piled on top of the NSA's prying eyes.”

And in a “Cyber Monday letter” to the F.C.C., representatives from hundreds of websites and internet-related businesses condemned the draft proposal, noting, “internet service providers will be able to favor certain websites and e-businesses, or the platforms they use to garner new customers, over others by putting the ones that can pay in fast lanes and slowing down or even blocking others. Businesses may have to pay a toll just to reach customers.”

The policy “would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent innovative new ones from even getting off the ground.” According to the letter, “An internet without net neutrality protections would be the opposite of the open market, with a few powerful cable and phone companies picking winners and losers instead of consumers.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Randal Agostini
2 weeks 3 days ago

This is odd, because the author seems to act as a shill for "Big Government," which was the main reason for the implementation of Net Neutrality - Government Control. The argument against Net neutrality is as simple as the US mail against UPS and FedEx. When they were allowed to compete - guess what - the US Post office became more innovative and efficient. Free enterprise is going to allow freedom of choice and yes deep pockets will have the fastest service they are wiling to pay for.
Has this author noticed that ever since NN was introduced how the pricing has become uncompetitive - especially for the budget user, who was willing to settle for a slower speed at less cost.
Articles such as this should present the whole truth, so we can make an informed choice rather than once again be told how we should think.

Dionys Murphy
2 weeks 3 days ago

That's worked out great for Credit Cards, right? Free enterprise and choice has allowed everyone to end up with zero percent interest from their credit companies, or very low interest with high bonuses.

What the destruction of Net Neutrality will mean, as usual, is that the poor will be farther marginalized, the middle class will be taken on a ride with zero recourse for being taken advantage of by monopolies and the wealthy won't care because they can buy their way out of or into anything.

The solution is simple. The government developed and created the internet. In the interest of protecting America and Americans, states should use eminent domain to seize the infrastructure essentially paid for by America's citizens and nationalize the internet with continued open and free access while charging the reasonable fees needed for upkeep and upgrading.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 2 days ago

Dionys
GREAT IDEA....... The New York Times charges different rates for its ads based on usage and it limits the number of ads it runs as well. Geee, Let's just nationalize it to provide equal access at "reasonable rates"! We could this all over the place!

John Walton
2 weeks 2 days ago

Seizing private property worked out so well for Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 2 days ago

The internet has been amazingly free so why the need for so-called net neutrality which actually seems like just the opposite. My complaint is the costs have gone up to near $750 a year in places. And there are different grades of speed that one can pay for. But that is the American way. However, we just got rid of our television cable service (which we hadn't used in months) as Netflix and the internet has obviated the need for it.

It wasn't too long ago when the issue was the final mile or the speed with which your cable could actually deliver content. That complaint has disappeared. Why not let it evolve.

I assume the bishops would be against monopolies such as Google and Facebook and other similar restrictions on who can post information. Would the bishops want to go back to the 1930's phone system when everybody had a poor connection? It was only 6-7 years ago when few had heard so Netflix and a few years before that Blockbuster was thriving.

Do you ever wonder why America, the magazine, always trots outs bishops to hide behind? If you are going to be for or against something, say it. Don't quote a compliant bishop.

I love the photo of what's looks like the typical photo used by America of a "rent a mob" that probably knows nothing about what they are protesting. They actually look kind of disinterested as many protests are these days. Usually we get intolerant look.

PS- my wife and I own a small business that via our website reaches all over the world and have not experienced anyone complaining about reaching our site. So I doubt any small business has been inhibited by the horrors described in this article. I would look to government regulations as the real inhibitor. That doesn't seem to bother America.

Robert Bossie
2 weeks 2 days ago

Mr. Cosgrove, your last point seems to prove the point for the need for net neutrality since it is currently in force, at least as I understand it. I wonder if you will continue to say we "have not experienced anyone complaining about reaching our site" should net neutrality be revoked?

Dionys Murphy
2 weeks 1 day ago

I think, like most Americans, J Cosgrove is confused about what Net Neutrality (which is what we have now) actually is. Costs, for one, have not gone up recently. But if you eliminate Net Neutrality, you can be sure your costs will go up. Moreover as a small business owner, you can be sure they will go up astronomically when the monopoly companies that provide internet service demand you pay more and more for more bandwidth and to compete with larger companies that can pay more than any small business owner. Every argument you make, J Cosgrove, is an argument FOR RETAINING Net Neutrality.
"my wife and I own a small business that via our website reaches all over the world and have not experienced anyone complaining about reaching our site. So I doubt any small business has been inhibited by the horrors described in this article. I would look to government regulations as the real inhibitor. " - Because you already have Net Neutrality and the horrors described are the horrors that will occur when Net Neutrality is destroyed.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 1 day ago

Mr Cosgrove
Simple question: Have you (or your customers) noticed any difference in your business usage of or costs for"the web" before and after Net Neutrality was instituted?

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 1 day ago

Mr. Meisenzahl,

The answer to your question is No.

Remember net neutrality is only 2 years old and our business which has a website (established in early 1997) of about 150 webpages has not experienced any noticeable improvement or decline since Net neutrality was enacted over 2 years ago. Or in the previous 19 years the website has existed. In other words nothing has changed one way or the other. So the content of the article is just hysteria. The issue is video services like Netflix and Youtube which take up about 60+% of the bandwidth now and whether one should be able to get faster video which obviously depends on speed.

Is this article claiming that some religious missions will be compromised by the slowness of their video delivery? Read the headline,

U.S. bishops: ‘Net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function’

This is pure nonsense.

This article is just one of an endless "scare or shame" attempts by America, the magazine, to try to influence a political position. Why America continually pursues such an approach is the most interesting question in my mind about the editors specifically and the Jesuits in general. America is not a religious publication but a political one that tries to find a religious angle to justify their political positions. This article is just one in a long line of such articles. They do mix in a variety of religious articles on the site, some of which are very interesting but in general, it is a political publication.

As far as internet provider service, I established our business website in late 1996 with a couple simple pages listing our products and how to get hold of us. The cost per month 21 years ago for hosting this was $50. Despite my website being a hundred times more dense in terms of content (no video) my cost have not changed. Well that is not true. After 18 years the cost increased to $56 a month. Now I could lower this cost by half by going to another host service but we have decided to keep our current host because they are located 5 miles away and have had good service with any problems we occasionally have.

So to imply that businesses will have problems hosting content is one of the more remarkably absurd claims I have seen. I am not saying it could not happen but the trend has been in the completely opposite direction, all before net neutrality happened.

The other issue is access to my data at the various places around the globe. Net neutrality only covers the US so what other countries do is of no consequence to this debate. I have not seen any change in the last couple years in my business access to anyone. I would probably see this if someone complained about accessing my site. One or twice I have had complaints and they were due to my provider temporarily having an issue but nothing due to discrimination of my content for any means. I have not seen anyone on the internet complaining about this.

So why the big deal? Look to politics and not to any convenience denied to individuals.

My cost for access to internet (different from hosting my website) has gone up a little. We have a business account and it costs $70 per month. We agreed to pay additional money to have faster service a couple years ago. This mainly affected upload speeds for photos in emails or to dropbox. I assume this would disappear under net neutrality but hasn't yet. In other words net neutrality would prevent one from getting better service.

Our internet access has come through the cable company, of which we do not get cable TV (deleted this service recently due to the innovations on the internet obviating the need for it. Would net neutrality prevent these innovations.). We have at least one option to change to the local phone company but we left them about 6 years ago because of bad service. My guess is that other providers will spring up if things get out of hand.

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