A week ago, the Federal Communications Commission revealed their intent to break down regulations that protect equal internet access. This concept, better known as “net neutrality,” is crucial in ensuring that individuals have access to a wide variety of websites and services across the internet. Previously, FCC regulations passed in 2015 prevented internet carrier providers from differentiating and discriminating against how broadband is used. Now, under the leadership of FCC chairman Ajit Pai, these regulations are under threat and in turn, so is the sanctity of internet information access.
Pai argues that fewer regulations will ultimately prove beneficial to market growth. However, this would open the field for internet service providers to charge internet companies to pay for faster connections, a cost that would quickly work its way down to consumers.
Those who can afford to pay would enjoy the privilege of content access via a “fast lane.” However, those who cannot absorb the extra cost would be relegated to the “slow lane,” suffering low speeds and in some cases blocked access to content. Internet access would likely be relegated into packages for content like video, e-mail, gaming and social media with individual costs.
Admittedly, I didn’t quite understand what net neutrality would mean for me as an internet user until recently. I knew that I was in favor of it, but I wasn’t certain of how it would affect me personally. However, I’ve come across the same example time and time again: if we lose equal internet access, we might lose Netflix. While this may not be the most critical implication of a lack of net neutrality — in my opinion, that’s the restriction of information access for the poorest of Americans — it’s one that is by-and-large understandable for the majority of university students. I binged "Stranger Things" Season 2 just like the rest of us, but in a world without net neutrality, this may have come with some extra costs.
For example, AT&T and Time Warner are attempting to merge despite legal protests from the U.S. Department of Justice. If the merge is allowed to continue, AT&T will own HBO. In a world without net neutrality, AT&T would be incentivized to slow down speeds for Netflix unless users pay extra, while HBO would remain at high speeds at no extra cost, effectively pushing consumers to use HBO over Netflix.
Furthermore, net neutrality is crucial to information access. For those who can’t afford to pay for a potential social media or news bundle, access to news and information will be severely limited. In an era when most knowledge is disseminated via the internet, losing net neutrality would be a critical blow to information access, eventually making knowledge a privilege for those who can afford it.
We need to express our support for net neutrality to Congress. Write and call your representatives and urge them to vote in support of net neutrality if the FCC's internal vote passes. If you’re so inclined, attend one of the protests happening at Verizon stores around the nation on Dec. 7. There are less than three weeks before the FCC votes to end net neutrality — as internet users and U.S. citizens, it’s time to make our voices heard.