You've probably heard a lot about net neutrality in the past few days. You've probably seen a lot of computer geeks screaming that it's the end-times for the internet. And, truth be bold, you've probably not cared too much.
Let's talk. This is something that, whether you like it or not, affects you personally. But how important is this?
First off, what even is it? A common definition is that net neutrality is the principle that individuals should be free to access all online content and applications equally, regardless of the source, without internet service providers (ISPs) discriminating against specific websites. So basically, we can all access the same information online. Great! Why would anyone want to get rid of those protections? Well, there's a lot of money to be made; a lot of money to be made off consumers like us.
If neutrality is revoked, ISPs can treat certain websites differently. You're trying to access a website that says something critical of your ISP or is hosted by competitor? It might mysteriously take a lot longer for you to access it. Or, you might not be able to access it at all. You can be blocked off whole areas of the internet simply because your ISP disagrees politically with the sites you're trying to access.
If complete loss of internet equality doesn't concern you enough, let's talk about the monetary side of this issue. Without its current protections, companies like AT&T and Comcast can divide website access into "packages" just like TV channels and charge you way more. Sound far-fetched? It's already happening in the world. Take a look at the internet on cruise ships. People on Carnival Cruise Lines are handed a pamphlet upon boarding which details their internet options. Want access to social media websites? That's $5/day. Want access to your email or news? Bump that up to $16/day. Well, that's just price gouging for rich people on cruises, you say. Take a look at the internet situation in Portugal, these website packages are already in effect. €5/month for social media, another €5/month for music streaming, another €5 for email. These website packages could stack up quickly and be far more expensive than what you currently pay to get everything for one price.
And it could get a whole lot worse. Do you have a website of your own? ISPs could potentially charge you extra just to keep your site afloat during high traffic times. As one ex-Google employee tweeted: "pay us another $400/mo if you want your website to stay up during the holidays." Or, you could have to pay for people to access your website at all.
Of course, this is all hypothetical. We don't know for sure that American internet companies will become cable companies if net neutrality is revoked. But why risk it? The internet has clearly grown well without the current Federal Communications Commission screwing with it, we don't need a change.
All of this recent rigmarole is over the FCC's new "Proposal to Restore Internet Freedom" which seeks to remove the internet protections put in place in 2015. But, this name is intentionally deceiving. It would completely eradicate all rules for net neutrality, and the freedom would be given to the companies, not the people.
In 2014, when the FCC was going through the process of deciding these protections from internet companies, they opened up a forum for comments. Within the first day, they received almost a million comments; 99 percent were in favor of net neutrality.
Also, keep in mind, the current chairman for the FCC, Ajit V. Pai, the person generally identified as spearheading this new battle on net neutrality, previously worked at Verizon for multiple years. Not only this, but on that million-comment-forum I recently mentioned, there were some opponents of net neutrality. Sure, not that odd that some people are on the other side of the issue. But it is odd when, upon investigating those posts against neutrality, people found that many had identical wording, and were apparently posted under the names of people who said they never wrote those comments in the first place. Am I saying that the FCC, upon realizing they faced overwhelming backlash from their corrupt practices, created fake online posts using unwilling citizens' names, to make it seem like more people were in their favor? Of course not. Although it is odd that the FCC is also intentionally hindering an investigation of this claim.
Foul practices are afoot. Do not be deceived, removal of these government regulations will not give American citizens more freedom online, it will give telecommunications companies more freedom to control what American citizens can do while online.
Just last week the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is co-chaired Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ03), issued this statement:
"With today's decision to begin repealing the Federal Communication Commission's historic 2015 Open Internet Order, Chairman Pai has again decided to help his friends in Big Telecom at the expense of competition, innovation, and the fundamental right to a free and open internet... This is an assault on the freedom of speech and therefore our democracy."
Think about it: What are you currently restricted from doing online? Save for outright illegal things, you're pretty damn free to do whatever you'd like. The current internet protections in place are working. They do not need to be stripped away.
If the current FCC regime removes internet protection, the greatest source for information sharing in our nation's history could fall into the hands of a few corporations. And they're scheduled to decide Dec. 14. How important is this? Important enough that I, a journalist, someone whose craft has been all but ravaged by the internet, am still in support of its equality and openness.
Most people won't care until their internet starts costing them more. But by then it will be too late. The internet is a glorious, occasionally horrific, often beautiful, time-waster, and one that has completely changed the entire world in 20 short years. Let's keep it like that.
This affects us all. Please, educate yourself on the topic, call your representatives, and tell them how you feel about net neutrality.