At the tail end of last week, the USA’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published its “Restoring Internet Freedom Order”. In layman’s terms, this is their ‘destroying net neutrality’ legislation which rolls back legislation passed under the Obama administration which, ironically, protected the free and independent internet.
While it might seem to those who understand the crucial roll net neutrality plays in keeping the internet a level playing field for everyone that the FCC is having a good laugh with the title it has given this piece of legislation, those familiar with the agenda of the current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai will certainly not be smiling.
The bitter loss of net neutrality in the USA
As regular readers may recall, Pai, who is a former lawyer at US Internet Service Provider, Verizon, has been determined to roll back any regulations which prevent his former employers from maximising their profits at their expense of the internets of their customers, the US public.
Net Neutrality is not the first regulation which is supported by both internet experts and the general public which he has swept away. The right for US internet users to give approval before their ISP could sell their internet data was also abruptly removed last year.
Pai then turned to Net Neutrality, which is a regulation that forbade ISPs from providing online benefits to big corporate websites that paid them more money at the expense of start-ups and individual websites.
After a campaign in which millions of people voiced their opposition to the plans to scrap net neutrality and Pai struggled to form any sort of coherent defence of them, the FCC, inevitably, voted to do away with them anyway.
The legislation to carry this out has now been published and a flurry of legal challenges can now be expected. But, the axing of net neutrality has had another consequence. This one was perhaps less expected but shows that when it comes to their online rights, American’s really are willing to go that extra yard to protect themselves.
VPN usage up 170% in the USA
There has been a significant spike in VPN usage in the USA since the Net Neutrality debate became front-page news. According to App Annie, a market research company which specialises in app sales, five of the current top 10 highest grossing productivity apps in Apple’s US App store are VPN apps.
These findings appear to be born out by the experience of Hotspot Shield, as reported in an article on Business Insider. They ran an interview with the Hotspot Shield CEO in which he claimed that they had more than 100 million downloads in 2017.
According to David Gorodyansky, “Over the last 18 months, people are starting to realize that the government won’t protect them and that Google and Facebook want to use their data as currency. People are realizing that they need to take this into their own hands.”
Although Hotspot Shield, which is a free VPN and has had a few issues with data leaks of late, is not necessarily the answer to this, he is certainly right that a dependable VPN, such as IPVanish and ExpressVPN can protect people from the threats to their online privacy which can come from government, big tech companies, and ISPs.
Global VPN trends
It is not just in the US where people are starting to realise this. Australia has seen a big jump in VPN users since they began carrying out bulk storage of people’s online data. Use of VPNs has grown by a whopping 470% there in the past year.
And use is also on the rise in more authoritarian countries, where online freedoms are also systematically undermined. In Turkey, where President Erdogan has been engaging in a brutal crackdown on dissent in the wake of a failed coup last year, there has been an 89% rise in VPN use, despite efforts to block access there.
Ajit Pai has not yet tried to block access to VPNs in the USA. Although maybe its just an idea he has yet to properly flesh out. However, in taking the axe to sensible regulation in the USA, he has unwittingly given the VPN industry a real boost there.
Some VPNs are describing him as the best industry market man they could wish for. For regular American internet users, it is just a relief that they can still use a VPN to protect them at a time when they are being so badly let down by their own FCC.