Net Neutrality: What Is It and How Can I Help?

Betty Kubovy-Weiss

December 15th, 2017

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality. Following the vote, outcries of backlash erupted from all around the country (especially from young, liberal Americans). And although there has been a remarkable amount of social media activity around the repeal, it is becoming increasingly clear that many Americans actually don’t know what net neutrality is, how it came to be, and what is going to happen in the aftermath of the decision to repeal it. Here are those answers.

 

WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?

Net neutrality was a system of regulations re-established under the Obama Administration that regulated internet providers to make sure they were providing equal access to all of their customers for all Internet content. In a country (and world) that is so dependent on technology and internet usage, it is important to understand the revocation of this system of internet equality is so significant -- and how taking away the right to an equal internet affects literally everyone, including us: students who depend on the internet for day-to-day activity.

 

The most recent net neutrality decisions which have been pointed to most often in this discussion was when the FCC applied new rules to net neutrality in order to accommodate (or take advantage of) the increasingly internet-reliant America that the country was becoming. A New York Times article from 2015 stated that the FCC released a 313-page document outlining confusing rules for Internet providers about how the Internet would be regarded as a public utility but, for example, wouldn’t impose the same charges that other public utilities do.

 

The article later states that what prompted this was President Obama urging the FCC to take action on this issue of keeping the Internet public and equal for all. America’s transition into widespread Internet use happened quickly, and he recognized that the US government had to get involved with the legality of it all before providers did something that could eventually be seen as unlawful.

“The agency’s order reclassifies high-speed Internet as a telecommunications service rather than an information one, subjecting providers to regulation under Title II of the Communications Act. Its aim is to protect the open Internet, advancing principles of so-called net neutrality by prohibiting broadband providers from elevating one kind of content over another.”
 

- Rebecca R. Ruiz, NYT (2015)

Internet providers, who wanted to get as much money out of their consumers as possible, were not so thrilled about this whole net neutrality business at the time.

 

WHAT HAPPENED ON THURSDAY?

Fast-forward to 2017. On Thursday, the FCC voted on whether to keep or repeal net neutrality in the United States. The FCC, composed of Chairman Ajit Pai, Republican Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Reilly, and Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel were the five individuals voting. The latter two voted against a repeal, while the former three voted for it.

 

The Democratic Commissioners in the committee commented critically on the vote to repeal. “I dissent from this fiercely spun, legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order,” said Clyburn. Rosenworcel echoed a similar sentiment: “I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point. And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today. This decision puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

 

WHAT ARE SOME MISCONCEPTIONS?

Aside from the general lack of knowledge about what net neutrality means (you may have seen social media posts lamenting the situation, but confusing its repeal with the original system itself), there have been many common misconceptions about what the repeal actually means for Americans on the Internet.

 

Firstly, it is important to keep in mind that, although the repeal of net neutrality has been voted on, it will not go into effect for several weeks; the repeal still needs to go through the process of being entered into the federal register which can take several months (TechCrunch).

 

Initially, many people thought the repeal would allow for Internet providers to treat access to certain sites as cable providers do with channels. Also known as the process of bundling, this basically means that providers would bundle websites with common themes together and sell them to customers at an additional cost to what they already pay for their Internet access. Although this is true and Internet providers do have the capacity to do this, the customer loss they could suffer is too much of a risk. Especially since companies like AT&T and Comcast have announced they will not bundle (or, for that matter, let their service be affected at all by the new laws), others like Verizon or Time Warner Cable will not want to lose their customers to other corporations just to make a little more cash.

 

A final large misconception is that there is nothing to do about the repeal. You can see a list of what you can do at the bottom of the article, but for now, understand that the CRA (Congressional Review Act) is a very important component of the whole situation. The CRA states that Congress is allowed to review a piece of legislation similar to the FCC’s decision today and decide it is not beneficial to the American people to pass it. If Congress exercises this right, net neutrality could be kept.

 

WHAT ARE THE GENUINE CONCERNS?

Misconceptions about the whole situation have spread quickly, but there are many severe and genuine concerns that are important to understand.

 

Since the FCC is no longer regulating big service corporations, they now have the capacity to raise the prices of higher speed Internet, making it only available to large companies or wealthy individuals who have the financial capital to invest in it. By doing this, they would be putting small businesses and low-income individuals at a disadvantage. The already large gap between the upper and lower classes in the US would continue to widen and widen, putting the upper class in an even more fortunate position and the lower class in an even less.

 

In addition, without the FCC maintaining Internet traffic equality, the service companies will be able to regulate the speeds and prices of specific content, giving them the ability to censor whatever material gives them financial and political gain.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

As with most things, there are still many things we can do to fight back against the repeal, and as this directly affects us students, it is important to respond now:

  • CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES: Pick up your phone, send an email, write a letter, find a way to reach out and encourage them to use the CRA to fight for net neutrality

  • RESISTBOT: One efficient way to contact representatives is using Resistbot. Take 5 minutes to text RESIST to 50409 or message RESIST to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger. Follow the steps and, when prompted, enter your message. (You can find a script which you can personalize at the end of this article.)

  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Social media is a very powerful tool. Speak out and spread awareness on your platforms about what net neutrality really is and why it should matter to everybody. Encourage your friends, family members, peers, teachers, enemies -- everyone -- to speak out against and fight this repeal. Share this article to give them ways to do it. Also check out the @highlyindy featured story on Instagram for posts and articles about net neutrality and fighting back.

  • WRITE TO YOUR INTERNET PROVIDER: A well-worded, civil, but strongly worded email or letter to your provider can go a long way for all of the other people they provide Internet for. In the event that the repeal of net neutrality is finalized, it will be in the hands of the providers to decide what to do with their new freedoms. Demand they respect your right to free and equal internet access and do not take advantage of you or your content.

  • BATTLEFORTHENET: Visit battleforthenet.com for more information on how you can help.

 

SCRIPT FOR LETTERS

NOTE: This script is designed specifically for students, but feel free to personalize the first paragraph to express your own concerns about the repeal. If using ResistBot, exclude the italicized sections.

 

Dear REPRESENTATIVE,

 

I am a student who depends on free internet to function and succeed in and outside of my school, and with the repeal of net neutrality, my personal freedoms as a student and individual on the internet are being taken away.

 

So yes -- net neutrality has been repealed, but we can still fight back with your platform and support. Please use your office and voice to speak out and demand a congressional review of the repeal. This is what the CRA was made for. I strongly urge you to exercise that right.

 

Thank you in advance for protecting your constituents' rights and helping save the internet!

 

With great concern,

NAME

©2017 by The Highly Indy Project

highlyindy@gmail.com, New York City

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