THE FIGHT FOR AN OPEN INTERNET
From the moment I received my first AOL free trial CD in the mail, I’ve been what some people might call “extremely online.” I like to think of the internet as my generation’s Wild West – a massive, open frontier where just about anything is possible. Sure, you might get bit by a snake (or harassed by a troll), but that’s a small price to pay to have access to everything the internet has to offer. As you can imagine, I was incredibly disappointed on December 14 when the FCC voted to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules that required internet service providers (ISPs) to provide the same amount of bandwidth to all content providers. As communicators and citizens, it’s crucial for us to understand what this decision means, and what steps we can take to ensure a future of open internet for all.
What is net neutrality?
The overarching principle behind net neutrality is simple: ISPs should not be able to block, slow, or provide preferential treatment to particular sites or services. With net neutrality, your aunt’s personal blog receives the same amount of bandwidth as any major news site. With no net neutrality rules in place, ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, or Time Warner are free to favor specific websites or charge consumers more to access video streaming services or social media. In Portugal, where there’s no net neutrality, ISPs have split the internet up into packages that give customers varying levels of access to the web.
In an age of increasing consolidation among telecommunication and media companies, critics of the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules fear that there is now an incentive for ISPs to discriminate against rival websites by blocking or slowing their web content. Steve Kovach summed up the problem perfectly in a recent Business Insider article, writing, “If you’re a Comcast customer, you may have to pay extra to be able to stream video from Netflix or Amazon, rather than from NBC or Hulu, which Comcast part-owns. If you’re a Verizon customer, you may get charged extra to access Google’s news or finance sites rather than Yahoo’s.”
Who will be affected?
The short answer? Everyone. The internet has become an integral part of our everyday lives, and the FCC’s decision has the potential to change how we use it drastically. If ISPs choose to charge internet companies a fee to push their content to customers, massive internet companies like Facebook, Google or Amazon, will have the money to pay, but smaller internet companies may not, leading to less choice for consumers. Those fees could also hurt internet start-ups hoping to become the “next big thing,” as the additional cost may prove to be too much of a burden.
Beyond business repercussions, there are broader social implications to consider. The internet has been the birthplace of numerous social movements including Black Lives Matter, and more recently, the #MeToo movement surrounding sexual harassment and assault. An open internet is what allowed these movements to flourish. Without net neutrality, these voices may be silenced.
Is there anything we can do?
The fight isn’t over. In the days after the FCC’s decision, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman announced his plan to lead a multistate lawsuit to stop the repeal of net neutrality. If the courts determine the FCC decision to be illegal, it could be struck down.
Congress also has the authority to pass legislation protecting net neutrality. However, pressuring Congress to act on the issue will take a massive mobilization of American citizens. So, if preserving an open internet is important to you, contact your representatives by phone, email or in-person to let them know you disapprove of the FCC’s decision. BattleForTheNet.com makes it easy to do so, providing everything you need on one simple platform.
The future of the internet is in our hands.