In 2017, and through much of the 21st century, it is impossible to imagine a single day without internet. People use it for school, jobs, leisure, socializing and almost everything else. The internet has become an integral part of American society, although its role in our lives might change in the following months as Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has announced his plan to “restore internet freedom” by scrapping net neutrality rules established by his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, during the Obama administration. This news, however, was not well-received by website providers, small business owners and common consumers of internet.
In summer 2016, the U.N. declared internet access as a human right, stating that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The access to internet as a right is in grave danger, and we as inhabitants of the U.S., and most importantly, internet users, must voice our concerns without resorting to violence or any mischievous acts.
During Obama’s administration, the FCC reclassified broadband Internet service as a telecommunication service, and thus applied Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to its use. Under Title II, internet service providers (ISPs) are considered as common carriers, and as such, Internet service providers act as neutral gateways, similar to other utility providers.
The FCC webpage states that net neutrality needs to be rescinded to further the agency’s “work to promote broadband deployment in rural America and infrastructure investment throughout the nation, to brighten the future of innovation both within networks and at their edge, and to close the digital divide.”
By scraping net neutrality laws, ISPs would technically be in control of the internet as they will be able to block content that they do not approve and, according to Cecilia Kang of the New York Times, “charge Web companies for speedier delivery of their content.”
These are minor concerns compared to the other side effects that the so called “internet liberation effort” might have on consumers. Internet providers will also be able to create “fast lanes” which would prioritize the service of certain companies, only if they were willing or had the resources to pay the providers. For example, if Netflix or Google refuse to pay the tariff, a Netflix user will experience an induced delay in their favorite shows; similarly, people who use Google will experience some problems when using Youtube, Gmail, Google search, among other internet tools.
In an article in Newsweek, Nicole Goodkind presented another reason why internet users should be concerned: they will have to pay more. Goodkind argues that it will not be rare to see a “pop-up from [one’s] service provider saying they need to pay an extra $10 each month to access social media.” And for this reason, internet providers might start offering tiered packages that fit the needs – and the pockets — of their clients. If a person can only afford a basic package, and is not able to access stream services or play online, well, too bad for them.
To opponents and proponents of net neutrality alike, Portugal is an example of what could happen to unregulated internet, which is reminiscent of what Goodkind suggested. In the article, she writes, “Portugal’s internet shows us a world without net neutrality, and it’s ugly.” Michael Hiltzik, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, says that in Portugal “providers can steer users to favored website and services, including their own.” Internet users are at the mercy of internet providers. Similar to Goodkind’s thoughts on a tiered internet package, Hiltzik mentions that in Portugal “after paying a fee for basic service, subscribers can add any of five further options for about $6 per month.” In Portugal, all the concerns of an average American internet user are a reality.
It is worth mentioning that according to Hiltzik, Vodafone in Britain offers an internet service that can be upgraded with “several ‘passes’ allowing unlimited video or music streaming, social media usage,” similar to Portugal’s internet providers.
This is an issue that bothers internet users, and there are already movements against Pai and the FCC. Users on Reddit and 4Chan have created threats to discuss the topic or to ridicule Pai through the use of memes. However, it seems like some internet users take this threat to the internet extremely grievously, as if it was personal. On Youtube, some users were commenting personal information about Pai in a malicious manner as they were expecting for someone to harass or prank Pai’s family.
The value of internet in our lives is comparable to the value of other utilities such as clean water and electricity. I even dare to say that it is a right, and as such, I will not waive it to some frivolous corporation. People who oppose the end of net neutrality must voice their minds and demand that the government prevent the FCC’s plans, not only because they are anti-consumer, but because they are violating a human right.
Sebastian Suarez is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.