On Monday, Donald Trump named Ajit Pai as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Before you ask, this relevant to webcomics because the FCC is the government organization that regulates the internet. (And radio and television and satellites and basically anything used in electronic communications.) Pai’s assuming the role is particularly significant because he’s been a fierce opponent of net neutrality.
Now, if you missed some of the big fights around it from a few years back, net neutrality is the idea that everything that’s freely available online should be equally available. And while that might sound somewhat obvious, it came up as a point of discussion because Comcast was found to be throttling some users’ internet speeds. That is, they were deliberately slowing down how fast some of their customers could connect to some parts of the internet. They were, in effect, saying that they could judge the quality of content you were accessing and change your speed accordingly. This could then lead to content providers or hosting services being forced to pay premiums so Comcast (or another ISP) wouldn’t slow down their traffic; in effect, this would create a bidding war where the companies with the deepest pockets were the most accessible, and those without deep pockets would see their users being forced to wait for content.
As this regard webcomics, think about who has deep pockets in webcomics? Essentially no one. Even the most financially successful webcomikers out there are making less than $100,000 a year. That’s hardly even a drop in the bucket compared to, for example, Disney, which pulls in $2-$3 billion every three months! There’s simply no comparison. Comcast could say, “We’ll throttle your connection to users unless you pay a premium of $500,000 annually.” Someplace like Disney or Time-Warner could handle that, but an individual who’s only making $40,000 a year couldn’t possibly compete.
That’s the crux of the issue. Net neutrality allows for reasonable competition, and doesn’t become an extortion racket. Proponents consider the internet akin to a public utility like water or electricity.
The net neutrality debate came to a head in early 2015 when the FCC ruled that broadband internet access was a telecommunications services and therefore subject to the existing regulations. Essentially saying net neutrality was a good thing. Their formal policies went into place in mid-2015, and a year later, the DC Court of Appeals agreed, striking down the lawsuit that had been filed against the rule.
Pai, as I said, though, has been a staunch opponent of net neutrality. As the new chairman of the FCC, he wields a lot of power in determining whether net neutrality remains the law of the land. I don’t think he can just wave his hand and make it disappear overnight, but he does stand a strong chance of reversing the previous decision. And that could mean your favorite webcomic—whatever it might be—might be loading much, much slower in the not-too-distant future.