Net neutrality has been on the public radar since late 2014. While the Federal Communications Commission passed the first net neutrality laws back in 2010, widespread national attention wasn’t drawn to the issue until a Federal Appeals Court struck down said laws four years later. National backlash and petitions to reinstate the laws ensued. After receiving over 4 million public comments, the FCC voted to reinstate net neutrality laws on Feb. 26, 2015. But what exactly are these laws?
Net neutrality laws aim to protect consumers from discrimination by large broadband companies. In short, companies cannot block any legal content, throttle internet connection to any sites based on content, or create paid “fast lanes” for users who pay extra premiums. These laws prevent large, private companies from censoring the internet and cherry-picking content accessibility.
Now the debate is heating up again. On Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality laws despite widespread opposition. This was not the first unpopular or questionable decision made by President Donald Trump–appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai. Earlier in 2017, Pai “lifted media ownership limits, eased caps on how much broadband providers can charge business customers and cut back on a low-income broadband program.”
The last of these is what I take the most issue with. In the internet age, readily available access to the web is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. Job searching and applications are chiefly web-based, as is news unless you want to subscribe to print editions.
As a student, access to certain aspects of classes are online and communication with teachers happens primarily through email outside of class.
One of the most widely-debated aspects of the net neutrality discussion is how its repeal will affect consumers. The main argument against the regulations is that broadband companies weren’t discriminating against certain websites before the regulations came into play, so why have regulations at all?
While this is a fair argument on the surface, the actions of overseas internet providers raises suspicions. In Portugal, some internet providers began to bundle internet plans based on what websites customers want access to. Would you rather have Netflix or Facebook? Or pay an extra $5 a month for both? While tossed aside as conjecture by many, these are very real possibilities in the U.S., especially since they’re already unfolding elsewhere.
This repeal could further affect the general population by stifling innovation. People on both sides use this argument; some think the rules stifle innovation while others say the repeal will do the same. I believe in the latter.
Broadband companies could easily slow access to and even block up-and-coming websites that offer services or views they don’t agree with or to anything that could potentially be competition. Another side of this is the ability for companies to charge businesses more for internet access. They could make rates too high for smaller businesses to afford, which in turn will make them less accessible to their customer base. Good PR and high quality do so much for a business that it borders on essential.
An overlooked question in this debate is whose pocket is Chairman Pai in? Before his appointment, Pai was a lawyer for Verizon and has since been accused of using his position to benefit another company, Sinclair Broadcasting. His obvious inherent bias seems to mean nothing to our current administration, but that’s not a surprise.
Despite the repeal, there is still time to save net neutrality. Senate Democrats have vowed to force a vote on the FCC’s decision later this year, given public outcry. Joining them, several big tech firms such as Google and Facebook are putting their weight behind the ensuing legal battle brought up against the FCC.
As for what you can do, contacting your representatives is the best way to add your voice to the growing clamor. This website provides instructions and a simplified way to do so.