On Dec. 14, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will vote to end the enforcement of regulations on internet service providers to supply equal access to the web for all paying customers.
These regulations, dubbed “net neutrality” during its Obama-era conception, ensure that internet service providers (ISP’s), such as Comcast and CenturyLink, supply full access to the internet within their data packages, without discriminating based on how their broadband is used.
In other words, once you pay for internet access, companies cannot regulate how you use it, meaning they cannot charge extra for accessing certain websites or certain types of data usage, e.g. accessing sites such as Amazon or Netflix.
Essentially, net neutrality regulations prohibit a free but limited vs. full but expensive version experience.
Providers should not be able to break up internet services into packages, charging more for access to some websites than others.
Critics of net neutrality, namely ISPs, as well as Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, argue that providers have no plans to create “fast and slow lanes” on the Internet, but rather that the relaxed regulations will increase competition and allow companies to further invest in their infrastructure.
However, further scrutiny produces many holes in this logic.
The argument that ISPs will be able to invest in their infrastructure does little to hide the fact that those additional funds will come from price increases on consumers, meaning both households and websites.
Eliminating net neutrality regulations would allow ISPs to charge websites for preferred treatment in their data packages, costs that only larger corporations would be able to bear, pushing out smaller companies.
Additionally, all of these added expenses will trickle down to household consumers, as prices for internet access and services within the web would increase.
Those who cannot afford to pay for better access will eventually lose out on access. Competition in the anti-net neutrality camp is therefore essentially a euphemism for price increases.
Net neutrality ensures free competition by preventing online business from being a “buy-in” market.
Startups have the freedom to give the same access to customers as well established corporations, a principle worth keeping sacred.
As a generalization, when divided between favoring business and government I will choose to give preference to the private sector.
I am a firm supporter in the principle of free choice, as leaving more decisions to the free market is the best way to ensure equality across classes and other divides, because people have more access to options in the face of competition.
However, in this case I am more than inclined to make an exception to my paradigm.
As said by SPU student Claire Lehnert, “if [net neutrality is] overturned … it might give internet companies too much control over how people use it.”
Education and access to information are the great equalizers among classes; as long as equal opportunity to quality education is guaranteed, social mobility is ensured.
Access to the information, especially via the internet, is a key factor in bettering one’s education, a fact recognized by the FCC as it voted to increase federal funding to internet access for school districts to a total of $3.9 billion annually as of 2014.
Though allowing the government to have influence over how companies use the Internet sets somewhat concerning precedents, the more immediate threat lies in creating the opportunity for ISPs to create “haves” and “have-nots” on the internet.
Additionally, the removal of net neutrality would allow the internet to become dominated by large corporations, pushing out small businesses that cannot afford the additional costs.
In the case of net neutrality, true competition cannot be guaranteed without regulation.
As said by SPU first year Jessica Kull, “you can’t expect lower classes to be able to rise up without giving them access to what they need to find success. And it will definitely amplify the stratification of social class.”
The United States is the land of opportunity, but allowing the Internet to become an obstacle to social mobility and economic growth would be retroactive in our pursuit for equality within our nation.
When beginning the process of installing net neutrality regulations, former President Barack Obama stated that “there are no toll roads on the information superhighway” in a two page statement released on the issue in 2014.
However, after Dec. 14, this will no longer be a fact.
The good news is that as citizens of the United States, we still have a voice in these important issues.
Our government exists to serve the people, and when we feel they are not performing adequately it is our right to express our opinions.
If you feel strongly about ensuring equal access to information, join me in writing your congressional representative and asking for an intervention on FCC’s vote.
You can submit a letter at: https://www.battleforthenet.com