A threat to net neutrality is a threat to American democracy

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

BY ELLIS TOWNSLEY ’20

Net neutrality is defined as “the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites,” according to Merriam Webster. This means keeping the internet as unrestricted as possible, in terms of cost and which websites users are allowed to browse. Ajit Pai, the newly-appointed Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), recently introduced a plan to do away with net neutrality. There have been many similar attempts in the past, including a failed attempt from the FCC in 2010, so unfortunately Pai’s current plan is nothing new. 

Net neutrality rules would limit differentiation and prioritization of Internet traffic, taking away the FCC’s oversight on broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T. In recent years, the FCC has faced several lawsuits from these providers fighting FCC oversight rulings. However, completely demolishing net neutrality would strip internet users of all Internet Service Provider protections and allow any and all internet services to collect tolls from users.

John Milton’s concept called “The Marketplace of Ideas,” says that all information and ideas must be readily available to the public for the education and improvement of people and society.  Preserving this access to information is important because if sources are restricted by the government, then the government can censor information they do not want publicized. If a news source produces stories that frame the government in a negative light, for example, the government can pressure internet providers to put a steep fee in place to discourage or even stop people from accessing that website. This would lead to voters not knowing the whole truth of what is happening in politics, and thus hampering their trust in the government. Less trust means less voters, which means less representation in public office.

In countries without net neutrality, internet access can be sold in packages similar to cable, where you have to pay more to access certain media. For instance, in some countries you have to pay extra to access social media sites, media streaming sites and news sources. This is a problem because it essentially excludes low income individuals from a service that the rest of the population enjoys. 

Low-income citizens already face huge accessibility issues due to the rising cost of internet services. Families like mine, who live in low-income communities in rural areas and already have limited options for internet providers, would not be able to afford higher internet service fees, nor would we have access to vital information about things such as healthcare, taxes and policy reforms.

If net neutrality is not retained, companies like Comcast serve to make a huge profit from accessibility fees, and as a result, they have been spending lots of money on lobbying law makers. This could explain why many Republican Party leaders are speaking out against net neutrality, while, a majority of the public is in favor of keeping the internet accessible. A staggering 85 percent of Republican voters and 81 percent of Democratic voters are in favor of upholding net neutrality, according to the Washington Post. 

Doing away with net neutrality only serves to benefit corporations with already massive profit margins. If you are passionate about keeping the net accessible and open, contacting your representatives as soon as possible is crucial. The FCC is voting on net neutrality on Dec. 14, and if you make your voice heard to Congress, we can save a vital resource for democracy.

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