Net neutrality is basically a set of rules that were specifically put into place to stop internet service providers (ISPs) from denying or regulating the speed of service based on content type, provider, or any other arbitrary categorization. Right now, the internet is labeled a public utility, so ISPs cannot control the speed or amount of internet traffic that is demanded by the customer or provided by the web based service. This means that if I have a plan with Verizon that gives me an internet speed of 75 mbps, I can watch Netflix, check Twitter, or Google pictures of fluffy puppies and expect all of these pages to load at a certain speed. If net neutrality is abolished, Verizon could charge me extra for using what they feel is too much data on Netflix, force me to buy a separate social media package to browse Twitter, or block Google altogether and only allow me access to Yahoo!, which they own.
On a personal level, every single internet user should care about net neutrality. Not only does it protect you from paying more for slower service, it also allows you to see the content you want to see without companies interfering and only displaying results beneficial to them. This level of censorship is not some dystopian future I’m making up; it has already happened multiple times in the recent past. Back in 2006, AOL blocked emails containing links to dearaol.com, a website containing criticism of the company. More recently, Verizon disallowed a pro-choice group from sending text notifications to their subscribers. These are not isolated incidents, nor are these the only companies to tailor their services to their own whims. Since 2005, major service providers have been showing us exactly what they would do without the open internet, and if net neutrality is ended next month, we can only expect more and more of the same.
Take a moment to think about this censorship on a broader scope. The internet is not just a source of entertainment. It is a database that serves to educate thousands of people about thousands of topics every day, a place where anyone can share their story and have the potential to be heard. Minority content creators who would never have gotten any attention through conventional means are finally able to have a voice. People are able to educate themselves on issues like racism or LGBT+ and women’s rights. Voters are able to learn about issues from unbiased, factual sources, and stories that the mainstream media tries to suppress are going viral on Twitter. Major stories which were being hidden for years are being exposed, such as the sexual assault allegations against politicians and actors. In a future with no net neutrality, voices of the groups that are starting to be heard will once again be silenced, and the people in power will once again be protected from defamation and any real consequences.
While most people regardless of their political party are in favor of net neutrality, the policy does have its critics. One of the main arguments is that an open internet policy is against the principles of free market. As with the censorship issue, the companies that stand to profit the most from the demise of net neutrality have already shown us how they would handle themselves if left to their own devices. Google had a project in which they were trying to provide free wifi up to a certain speed across the US. Verizon and AT&T saw the beginning of this project, realized that it would mean nobody would buy their internet plans, and lobbied to stop Google’s program. If these companies are allowed to go unchecked, they will work to monopolize the internet and no new ideas or businesses will be able to prevail amongst them, clearly going against the principles of free market. If you’re curious as to other reasons people may oppose net neutrality, check out this link with some common concerns along with explanations as to why they are not correct. Net neutrality helps every internet user, and its removal will only benefit the people in charge of the ISPs; these millionaires will continue to get richer and richer while throwing the rest of us under the bus.
The government is bringing back the net neutrality vote time and time again in hopes that the public will tire out and eventually they will be able to do as they please. It is up to us to show them that we will not back down. Depending on how much time and effort you are willing to put in, there are several ways you can help in this fight. For people with just a few moments to spare, Battle for the Net is a user-friendly website that provides a pre-written email followed by a script for phone calls. All you have to do is take 30 seconds (seriously, I timed it) to enter your information and the website takes care of the rest. You can also text RESIST to 50409 or add resistbot on Facebook Messenger and have it message your officials for you in under two minutes. If you don’t mind crafting your own messages, send a few emails to Ajit Pai, Michael O’Rielly, and Brendan Carr. Out of the five Federal Communications Commission (FCC) members voting on net neutrality on December 14, these are the three who plan to vote against it. If we can convince even one of them to change their mind, the vote will be shifted in favor of saving net neutrality. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, for the passionate internet-lovers with time to spare, there are protests happening at Verizon stores across the nation on December 7. Make some signs and bring your friends - just remember to be courteous to the employees. Chances are they hate this whole situation just as much as you do. When net neutrality was first established, what convinced the FCC to approve it was the millions of messages they received from the public in support of an open internet. Now that it is once again in peril, we must work together to protect the internet as we know it. If you use the internet, this issue affects you. So please spread the word and take action — before it’s too late.
illustration credit: themoskabot