Entering the twenty-first century, as technology advances, the concept of a free and open internet has shifted from being viewed as a luxury to being seen as both a necessity and a given. Culture, communications, and business flourish on a free internet, as do education and the job market. An open internet expands the realm of opportunity to otherwise unreachable people and places.
The Federal Communications Committee (FCC), a five-member organization, wants to take these benefits away from everyone.
Last month, the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai, voted to repeal net neutrality. Net neutrality is a broad term for the free and unrestricted internet, as well as the laws which ensure this, and it benefits every user of the internet. The convention of net neutrality helps small businesses and startups access possible customers more easily, as well as allowing people to take college courses online, apply for jobs with ease, and communicate with friends and family across the world. It also prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from manipulating what their customers access online, as well as charging additional fees for improved service.
One would question why the FCC would vote to remove such a beneficial convention. The answer? Profit for big businesses.
Though Pai claimed that his goal was to actually benefit internet users, saying in a PBS interview, “Well, I favor a free and open Internet, as I think most consumers do,” it is clear that motives for repealing net neutrality benefit only those who profit from the use of the internet, the major ISPs. Pai dismissed the concerns of internet users, saying that “Well, there are isolated cases,” of ISPs blocking certain services (such as Skype, FaceTime and Google Wallet), “But if you look at the FCC’s own records, there are only scattered anecdotes to support this.”
The fact that this is a possibility at all is concerning, especially considering that the FCC has made it clear that they will no longer be overseeing the activities of telecom giants such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. These “scattered anecdotes” could become the norm of ISP behavior with net neutrality revoked.
Without Obama-era protections of net neutrality, American internet users – nearly all Americans – will be subjected to mistreatment by corrupt ISPs, because without net neutrality, potential for ISPs to profit increases enormously.
ISPs will be able to charge extra money for certain content or better-quality service, as well as prioritize or block data from their users’ access. Essentially, if an ISP favors one business, they will be able to slow down or even prevent access to sites of competing businesses. The same applies to ideologies; if an ISP disagrees with a political standpoint, or even just an opinion which reflects badly upon the company, they could make it more difficult or expensive for their customers to reach sites pertaining to said ideologies.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fears that net neutrality will impact freedom of speech online as well. If telecom giants take offense to protests by citizens, whether they be against the removal of net neutrality or another cause entirely, protesters can be silenced from speaking out online. Challenging what the ACLU views as an attack on freedom of speech, Ron Newman of the ACLU said, “In a world without net neutrality, activists may lose an essential platform to organize and fight for change. . . Congress must stop Chairman Pai’s plan in its tracks and ensure that net neutrality remains the law of the land.” The potential censorship which could occur without net neutrality belongs more in a dystopian work of fiction than in the legal workings of America.
The injustice of removing the uncensored and unrestricted can not be ignored by the American people or leaders. Senior policy analyst of the ACLU Jay Stanley said, “Internet rights are civil rights.” In the fight to preserve net neutrality, it is the job of the American government to preserve these rights.