Net neutrality: what’s at stake

The Internet has unequivocally amplified communication, research, and entertainment in a way that has never been seen before the digital revolution. We can connect with friends old and new over a host of email, voice chat, messaging, and social media services, with new platforms seemingly popping up every day. We have the constantly-expanding sum of human knowledge at our fingertips thanks to search engines, online encyclopedias, news publications, and so much more. We can indulge in an expansive library of books, magazines, videos, music, TV shows, movies, and games that has completely redefined modern entertainment. These resources, the vast majority of them free and open to all, make the Internet as we know it an immensely powerful tool.

graphic by Chris Wang

Net neutrality is why the Internet exists “as we know it.” In essence, it ensures that the user chooses how and what to access regarding the Internet. In doing this, “net-neutral” Internet service providers are guaranteed to provide the same quality of service for each customer regardless of the website the customer is accessing. In other words, an Internet Service Provider cannot purposefully slow down one website over another simply because they disagree with the content. Net neutrality protects your ability to access and send any (lawful) information on the Internet and prevents these providers from preferring certain content or services over others, as well as from protecting competition. This allows for individual freedom rather than corporate control of the internet. In the same regard, the phone company isn’t allowed to block calls because telephone service is treated as a “common carrier” under the law and must treat all traffic neutrally. Under Chairman Ajit V. Pai, the Federal Communications Commission decided to abandon Obama-era regulations which secured non trafficked internet through Title II. The new plan? Replacing the strong rules with voluntary conditions that noISPs would want to agree with effectively repealing net neutrality.

Television services operate in a way that viewers purchase a “base plan” and pay for different packages to view certain channels. Essentially, if net neutrality is repealed, the internet could potentially operate very similarly to a television service, allowing ISPs to separate certain websites into different packages (i.e. news package, social media package, messaging package…) and have users pay for them as separate costs. ISPs would also be allowed to block or slow down supposedly “competitive” sites and services (which would lead to further political polarizations and bipartisan offerings. Users would only be able to use certain websites as dictated by internet moguls. Ultimately, this would permeate every aspect of the way we currently view and use the Internet. ISPs would have the ability to ban chat rooms, as BellSouth blocked customers’ access to Myspace in Tennessee and Florida. Gamers would be locked out their favorite games, charging a toll for gamers who use their competitors, influencing them to use their services and allowing them to further profit from consumers. In addition, network providers could charge more for downloading videos or music, as well as charge for use of free services like YouTube, which has allowed people to freely share and view content for over a decade.

This monopolistic distortion would in-turn kill small businesses, as freelance artists or entrepreneurs use social media to get their work seen and attract customers. Without net neutrality, these innovators will no longer be able to afford posting their work anymore. In the same regard, the repeal of net neutrality will be devastating for people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, minority religions, and other marginalized groups who rely on the internet to organize and find access to economic and educational opportunities. They will no longer have a platform to share their views and create change, making it harder for them to fight back against systemic discrimination. The repeal of net neutrality would hinder free speech, as the websites we have access to would be in the hands of greedy titans, leading to the rise of gatekeepers who would continue profiting off of their consumers.

There are obvious classist undertones of this push to repeal net neutrality, shutting out underprivileged people from the world of social media and creating a lack of transparency for those who cannot afford to follow along with current events. Beyond even that, there will be a decline in civic engagement regarding digital empowerment. Suddenly, this tool will be welded into one of corruption and greed, further empowering ISPs to throttle consumers. We must continue to fight against Pai’s proposal, guaranteeing equal access for Internet users and a bright future for the web.

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