Editorial: Why you should care about net neutrality


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Imagine paying extra to access the same Internet you’re using today. Imagine working on a research paper but being unable to access a website because it isn’t included in the list of sites your Internet service provider allows you to access. Imagine an online environment with clear winners and losers, where Internet companies are required to pay multi-billion dollar internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T an extra fee for faster bandwidth or else be relegated to the shadowy depths of the “internet slow lane.”

Now stop imagining, because all of this will be possible after the Federal Communications Commission votes Dec. 14 on its new plan to dismantle net neutrality, a principle protecting the internet as we know and use it today. The commission’s plan is largely expected to be adopted, with the FCC’s three anti-net neutrality Republicans representing the majority of the five-person committee.

The plan will roll back a 2015 landmark regulation by the commission to reclassify the internet as a public utility rather than a service. Without net neutrality protections, internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon can provide faster bandwidth to sites that pay more and slow down any sites that don’t, creating a digital divide that will disrupt the composition of the internet as we know it. Perhaps even worse, these providers will have the ability to pick and choose the sites you have access to, potentially requiring you to pay extra to access the same sites you have total freedom to access today.

Those unaware of net neutrality or the controversy surrounding it may be pondering why this route of action would be taken by anyone who values the information, resources and entertainment provided by the internet. Once thought to be a non-partisan issue, net neutrality has seeped into the divisive political discord of the day. In 2014, a University of Delaware survey found that 85 percent of Republicans were in favor of net neutrality, marginally outnumbering Democrats who stood at 81 percent approval.

Recently, Republican lawmakers have largely embraced the internet service providers or, more accurately, the donations they receive from them. Following Congress’ March 2017 vote to roll back Obama-era internet privacy protections, tech site The Verge found that 256 of the Republican Congress members who voted to rescind the protections had received thousands of dollars in donations from telecommunications companies.

The Republican-majority FCC appears to be no different, with chairman Ajit Pai, an ex-lawyer for Verizon, spearheading the efforts. Pai has consistently justified his actions toward dismantling net neutrality with a flawed market ideology and a warped view of how the internet works. In a speech Tuesday, Pai argued net neutrality will “restore internet freedom” and “return us to the light-touch, market-based approach under which the internet thrived.”

Pai ignores that modern internet service providers have more in common with natural monopolies rather than a thriving market. According to a study by Economists Incorporated, 46.1 million Americans live in an area with only one internet service provider offering 25Mbps data speeds, which is the minimum speed for what FCC classifies as “broadband.”

Pai also rejects the evidence that caused the 2015 FCC’s decision to be implemented in the first place. According to The Los Angeles Times, powerful internet service providers were regularly violating the principles of net neutrality and the free internet prior to the regulation. For example, in 2005 the Associated Press found that Comcast was degrading the traffic of peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent without disclosing it to customers. Likewise, from 2007 to 2009 AT&T required that Apple block Skype and other web-based telephone services from the iPhone. These are only two of a myriad of examples.

As an internet consumer, you may be wondering: How is it we can stop the FCC from dismantling net neutrality and doing a disservice to anyone who enjoys the current online freedoms? Some argue that convincing members of Congress to oppose the plan could bear the best results. This means phoning your representatives in the House and Senate and making clear your opposition to a net neutrality repeal. If you’re unsure what to say, several pro-net neutrality communities have prepared concise scripts for you to read when you make your call.

There’s also information to spread and people to inform. Protecting the internet is neither a provocative topic nor one that is easy to explain or understand. But if you value the internet as it is now — which a Politico and Morning Consult poll indicates 60 percent of registered voters do — net neutrality is yet another modern political issue that you should brush up on and prepare to advocate for in the coming weeks.

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