Commentary

Communication Without Competition

have been blogging for seven years. What I love most about writing online is that my work and the work of others is immediately available to every person in the world. However, with the recent push to repeal net neutrality regulations, I might have to give up my passion.

If you haven’t heard this buzzword already, net neutrality is the simple principle that “Internet service providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination,” as defined by Merriam-Webster. As a student who does not earn a steady income, I don’t have the money to pay for my own URL, much less pay for my website to load at a competitive speed. Blogging is an activity that I cherish and that I think should be available for every child to learn. Without net neutrality, the world of blogging would have never been accessible to me and many others.

Ajit Pai, chair of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and former Associate General Counsel at Verizon, wants to strip away your right to internet access with the removal of all net neutrality regulations. He has proposed a vote to take place on December 14 and go along party lines, three Republicans to two Democrats in favor of removal. These five, appointed by President Obama or Trump, are the chairpeople of the Federal Communications Commission.

If net neutrality is repealed, companies would be able to slow down speeds or block websites altogether if the consumer does not pay a fee. Slowing down service speed for websites who cannot pay for high speed internet will harm a broad range of groups — from small businesses and startups to bloggers and students.

As our world becomes more globally connected and online oriented, it is important to teach students how to navigate and carve out a place of their own in our growing internet. If some are not afforded this opportunity because they cannot pay, we are widening the gap between classes and setting lower-class children at a disadvantage. Low-income college students already earn only two-thirds as much as their high-income counterparts. Repealing net neutrality will make it even harder for low-income students to have an equal playing field when it comes to access to crucial learning material and websites, such as Khan Academy, Wikipedia, “The New York Times,” and even Canvas. Simply put, repealing net neutrality regulations is blatantly classist.

The repeal of net neutrality goes against our first amendment rights by jeopardizing every citizen’s right to create and consume free, relevant, and truthful information about the world. In fact, in 2014, President Obama named the internet an essential utility, saying, “The Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”

Although it is difficult to determine concrete numbers, some analysts have suggested that internet service providers could divide website access into packages. This would mean consumers would be forced to pay individually for packages of websites. For instance, paying separately for a social media package, music package, streaming package, and a news package. The price would also be up to the discretion of internet service providers.

Conversely, every person has the right to spread ideas and information on an equal platform. An open internet allows citizens to share their opinions without censorship because of income. By censoring or silencing low income voices altogether, we are not maintaining the integrity of our democracy. Pai has argued that just because internet service providers can charge you for accessing certain websites doesn’t mean they will. When he expresses these sentiments, it is important to remember that Pai is a former Verizon employee. He does not have your best interests at heart and never has.

Pai claims his “plan to restore internet freedom would return us to the light-touch, market-based approach under which the internet thrived.” The internet, however, would not thrive even if we were to return to this hypothetical time. Instead it would be monopolized by broadband companies such as Comcast, AT&T, and ironically, Pai’s former employer, Verizon.

It is also important to realize that some internet providers already incentivize their customers to lean towards certain platforms. For instance, AT&T owns DirecTV. When AT&T users use the service, it doesn’t count against their plan’s data limits. In a similar vein, Verizon prohibits 4k video standard if its customer is not paying for their most expensive unlimited plan. Both of these are legal loopholes companies jump through with net neutrality. Imagine how much worse things will get if net neutrality is repealed and companies have free rein to do whatever they please when it comes to providing internet access.

It’s not over yet. Right now, you can call or email your congressperson, leave a comment on the FCC’s website, email Mr. Pai himself, and tell others to do the same. If the FCC repeals net neutrality, we will lose what makes the internet so revolutionary. Without net neutrality, I and many others would not have been able to get our ideas off the ground. Lower-class citizens would have fewer learning opportunities, and the gap between classes will only widen. We cannot lose our right to communicate equally and without restriction.

Dec 8, 2017