“You were wrong about net neutrality,” a friend texted me last week.
The text included a link to the latest U.S. broadband report from Ookla, a company that provides free internet speed tests.
According to the report, there was a nearly 36-percent increase in download speeds (i.e., downloading pictures, movies, music to your devices) in 2018 and a 22-percent increase in upload speeds.
This was his definitive proof that my pleas for net neutrality were unnecessary.
You see, about 18 months ago, I wrote a column encouraging readers to participate in Net Neutrality Day and why we should fight to keep the internet (mostly) open, (mostly) free and (mostly) devoid of government regulation.
The laws governing net neutrality, before they were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission and put into effect in June 2018, were meant to safeguard benefits for all users, regardless of income and education, and for all businesses, regardless of size and scope.
In essence, net neutrality offered all users and businesses a level playing field. Repealing it, most neutrality supporters believe, stifles creativity and progress, creates higher costs for consumers and slows access for those who can’t afford to pay for faster download speeds.
Was I wrong about net neutrality?
I’m usually the first to admit when I’m wrong, but there was something missing from my friend’s text. Using this one report to support the outcome of the repeal tells only a fraction of the story.
There’s no denying that broadband speeds are on the rise. You can read the report at speedtest.net. While you’re there, use their “free” app to test your speed.
When testing your speed, remember that Ookla is collecting information. You’re actually paying for that “free” test with data collected from your visit.
Last year, their app was used to perform more than 115 million “consumer-initiated” tests. Millions of tests create a ton of data, and that’s exactly how Ookla was able to determine the rise in U.S. broadband speeds.
But it doesn’t paint the whole picture, and it certainly doesn’t calm our concerns over the repeal.
It’s only been six months since the neutrality rules were scrapped, but some are concerned that we soon could see broadband companies bundling services, much like satellite and cable companies bundle TV channels.
Want access to ESPN and other sports websites? Pay for a premium sports package and get the access you want.
“Call this the calm before the storm,” I texted back to my friend. “Speeds may be up, but someone’s gotta pay for it.”
“Check your internet bill next December,” I added with a winky-faced emoji.
The jury is still out on the impact the repeal will have on you and me.
One thing’s for sure: we’ll need more than a cursory report on internet speeds before we see the full impact of the repeal.
You know it’s been a bad year when social media are pining for a simpler time, when MySpace was king, and when Facebook was nothing more than pet project by a baby-faced Harvard frosh.
Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. Still there’s no denying that if Mark Zuckerberg had an escape button to reboot Facebook, he would’ve pressed it a long time ago.
This is because Facebook is in an endless cycle of scandals. Intentional or not, they’ve done bad things with our personal information. We know it, and they know we know it.
Which is why their cheery “Facebook’s Year In Review” charade published earlier this month hit only on the positive notes from 2018 and avoided any talk of scandal.
In light of this, here’s my abridged “Worst of Facebook” for 2018:
- Cambridge Analytica. We can sum up Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony on their first of several data sharing and privacy goofs in two words: “my bad.” Actually, Zuckerberg probably would have said “our bad” because he doesn’t really take full blame for Cambridge Analytica gaining access to the data of more than 87 million accounts. Instead, he looked like a deer in the headlights during testimony, unsure of his next move, and oblivious to the 18-wheeler that Congress was careening toward Facebook’s front door.
- Myanmar Genocide. While you’re probably familiar with how Facebook was used to spread misinformation and hate in U.S. elections, you may be less familiar with how it was used to promote ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. According to United Nations investigators, Facebook virtually ignored the use of its platform by ultra-nationalist Buddhists for several years to spread violent propaganda against Rohinga Muslims. Allegedly this led to the execution of thousands of Muslims, and the exile of hundreds-of-thousands more.
In response to what were arguably two of the largest scandals in 2018, Facebook promised greater oversight and more transparency.
There were several other Facebook scandals, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Facebook wants us to know that despite their problems, we still turn to them to celebrate big events (e.g., World Cup, Royal Wedding). We still use Facebook to raise awareness for social issues, and to support causes important to us.
While we reflect on what a spectacularly awful year it was for Facebook, it’s important to remember why their tribulations will benefit us all in 2019, including other social media platforms.
Twitter, Snapchat and other social media are sitting back and taking notes on Facebook’s public flogging so as not to repeat the mistakes of one of their chief rivals.
So, as we close out 2018, it’s time to stop and raise a glass to Facebook’s valiant (albeit recent) attempts to set higher standards for their platform, high standards for other platforms to follow, and data privacy and security lapses to avoid in 2019 and beyond.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.