Information Access No Longer Neutral

Annette Ungermann, Opinion Editor

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a plan on November 21 that obliterates “net neutrality.” Net neutrality, as the name suggests, makes accessing the internet an equal playing field for all that use it. Without it, internet service providers and cable companies are free to charge fees for different levels of access. It is another effort by the Trump administration to demolish federal policies put in place by the Obama administration.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, spearheaded the proposal that overturns rules put in place just 2 years ago, which prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from stopping or slowing the delivery of content or favoring certain content. Doors will essentially be left open for telecommunication giants like Verison and AT&T to to decide what information can be accessed by higher or lower-paying users.

With service providers now allowed to decide what content is available to consumers, this is now an issue of free speech. What will happen when this power is exercised?

Will certain news sites be given priority or be more difficult to reach? Access to topical or more radical information may be. And with Republicans in Congress backing this proposal, it is no real mystery what information may be prioritized and what will be censored.

All guesses about the future of the Internet aside, existing rules were put in place to prevent telecom companies from essentially playing favorites. All data must be treated the same in the hands of internet service providers, as the internet, in our modern age, is something that billions of people rely on for their livelihoods. From creators expanding their following on social media to accessing topical news online, life would be drastically different with an internet that is not free and fair.

We exist in the age of digital media, which does not exist without the internet, simply put. So that begs the question, what is life in this century without free and equal access to the very thing that binds us all together in the present?

A free internet is a fixture of life as we know it today, which is why net neutrality exists in the first place: to protect the now, to ensure that it is something that everyone can access in the same manner. As digital life and reality have become more and more intertwined, any step back that limits the internet should be a concern for all of us. Innovation and access to information are endangered.

While Republicans like Pai argue that current rules show a “micromanaging” government, this dismantling of net neutrality is a clear play to the wealthy. Instead of government “meddling” that in fact has protected citizens, Republicans have shifted government intervention in favor of corporations. This is no improvement. Any positive spin by conservatives about removing net neutrality is inherently flawed – to make a thing less free only improves the lives of the wealthy and powerful, not the vast majority of Americans. Government protection of rights is not, and has never been an overstep. Government exists to serve and protect it citizens.

Michael Beckerman, chief executive of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that represents tech companies like Google, recognized that Pai’s action “defies the will of millions of Americans.”

Beckerman is correct: since the order was released, according to Wired, Congress has been flooded with more than half a million phone calls.

A poll conducted over the summer by Freedman Consulting, LLC, revels that 77% of all Americans support current protections. This desire crosses party lines, with 73% of Republicans echoing this support. If Pai and the GOP were only to listen, the desires of the public have been made abundantly clear. By removing net neutrality, Pai is not saving us from anything, and not serving the will of the vast majority of Americans.

The internet is our gateway in the information age. Net neutrality has protected this gateway, ensuring that all citizens, regardless of their race, gender, religion, class, or political disposition, have access to it.