Comcast Temporarily Blocks Tutanota. This Shows Why We Have to Fight for Net Neutrality.

Comcast Internet users were unable to access their Tutanota mailbox beginning of March due to Comcast blocking access to Tutanota for around 18 hours. This outage of the Tutanota website demonstrates how devastating the end of net neutrality could be for Internet users and start-ups alike.

Comcast users were unable to access Tutanota

Starting around 5pm on March 1st we have received hundreds of complaints from Tutanota users not being able to access their encrypted mailbox via mail, Twitter and Reddit. At around 11.30 am March 2nd, Comcast users were able to access Tutanota again.

Comcast did investigate the issue, but in retrospect could not find out why this outage of the Tutanota website has happened. As we are in direct contact with Comcast now, we will be able de-escalate much faster should something like this happen again.

A similar outage occurred in June 2017 when Comcast users were not able to access archive.org for around 14 hours.

Call to action: Battle for the net

"These outages - no matter if the cause was a purposeful block or a technical glitch - demonstrate how much power ISPs are having over our online experience, and it is shocking", says Mathias Pfau, co-founder and developer of Tutanota. "If ISPs can block access to certain websites or services, they control the Internet. It would be naive to believe that American ISPs will not use this power once net neutrality laws are gone for good. Without net neutrality ISPs can - and will - ask for extra fees."

This is why right now, the Internet community in the US is fighting for net neutrality by reaching out to Congress to convince them that net neutrality matters.

"We at Tutanota believe in the importance of net neutrality and call on all our American users to reach out to Congress as well. We have to win this fight to keep the Internet free", says Pfau.

ISPs could impose 'taxes' on websites

A free Internet guarantees that all online services are being treated equally: Right now we can access any website at the same speed. We are free to make a choice between all online services on offer without any disadvantage.

Without net neutrality, this changes. When all power lies with the ISPs, they decide what we see, what sites we are able to access. They can destroy a start-up before it has even started, simply by blocking their site. They could take money from corporations like Google and Facebook to offer 'fast lanes' to their users while smaller companies, start-ups or NGOs can not afford to do so.

Scrapping net neutrality laws will allow ISPs to impose 'taxes' on websites that in the end the user will have to pay. Our online experience will become much more unequal and much more expensive.

Corporate censorship will change the Internet

Without net neutrality ISPs could, for instance, offer a 'US bundle', which allows users to use certain US services like Google, Facebook and Twitter without any data limit. If - or when - American ISPs start creating such bundles, this will harm competition immensely because using services not included in such a bundle would become more expensive to the end-user.

Internet Service Providers such as Verizon or Comcast could include or exclude any service from their bundles without having to justify their decision. Thus, they can decide what services their customers use.

Why net neutrality matters

1. To keep the Internet free

Removing the current net neutrality protections would allow Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon to block content, to slow video-streaming services from rivals, and to offer 'service bundles' of preferred partners.

Users would not be free to visit any site or use any service they would want to, but would be limited to what their ISP offers.

2. To guarantee free competition

Ultimately, the limits imposed by Internet Service Providers will make it much harder for start-ups to even get started. When users only get unlimited access to certain preferred websites and services, most of them will never even try a promising new start-up because of extra charges.

However, it is competition and great start-ups that fuel the innovation of the Internet. There's a reason why monopolistic companies like ISPs, cable companies and telcos rank at the bottom of customer satisfaction studies - being monopolies they do not pay much attention to what their customers want and need.

While huge companies such as Google, Netflix or Amazon can most likely afford to sponsor data, smaller companies or start-ups don't necessarily have the budget.

"Universal access and fast connections are most important when it comes to online services", says Pfau. "So even if you are providing the better service compared to what a huge corporation has on offer, the big competition can always outplay you by simply paying for faster connections and better accessibility for their users. In the end, monopolies will control the Internet and your data. This will not only harm innovation, but it will also make online services more expensive for consumers. Without a choice of services, monopolies can raise prices at their own discretion as users won't have the option of switching services anymore."

3. To guarantee free speech - no censorship

Net neutrality is important to guarantee free speech and, thus, to protect democracy itself. If net neutrality is lost, there is no way of turning back: Big corporations will own the Internet, big corporations will decide what we see online, big corporations will dominate the public opinion, big corporations will dominate any future decision to be made in Politics.

The Internet right now is bringing people together and giving them the possibility to discuss their beliefs and opinions in a mostly free and open manner. It's possible to gather a lot of information online even in countries where the ruling class censors the media.

By now, the Internet has become the perfect place to organize public resistance when the ruling class tries to seize too much power. A free and open Internet helps people all around the world to access uncensored information.

4. To enable free access to information and education

Most countries invest heavily in free education: free schools, free libraries for children and students, and so on. Without net neutrality, we harm one of the biggest resource to gather free information: the Internet.

Limiting access to this great information resource will disproportionately impact low-income families and limit everybody's potential to learn in our digital age.

If websites have to pay for fast lanes, accessibility of educational and non-profit websites will suffer as they will not have the funds, or prefer to spend their funds elsewhere instead of throwing it as ISPs.

Conclusion

"The Internet as a free and open market-place is great for information, innovation and competition. That's why the Internet needs to be treated like a utility, just like electricity or water. In our modern digital age, access to the Internet - and to all its content at the fastest possible speed - has become a basic necessity to all of us", says Pfau.

"Handing such an important tool entirely over to companies that care more about profits than about anything else is, to say the least, dangerous."

While Comcast says they would not block or throttle websites, there is absolutely no guarantee this will never happen. That's why we must fight for net neutrality.

Use Tor or a VPN such as Private Internet Access to break the power of ISPs

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Matthias is co-founder and developer of Tutanota. I write code to fight for our human right to privacy. I want to create a cloud service which is so easy to use and so secure that it locks out all the spies. We really deserve better.

Posted on: 2018-03-12 / Updated 2018-03-16

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