by Lily Watkins
Most would not think of having access to the internet a human right, but according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, it is. People need basic access to the internet in order to exercise other basic human rights such as freedom of expression and access to information. Currently, the internet is neutral. So what does it mean that an American government agency wants to take that away?
Net neutrality is a concept first introduced in the 1980s, with the actual term being coined in 2003. Net neutrality, or the open internet, has changed with time since its first iteration, but the basic idea is that everyone must have access to a fair and open internet, and that internet providers are strictly prohibited from providing any sort of preferential treatment to certain businesses or groups. It is under these principles that has caused the internet to evolve, for better or worse, into its current form.
Resident Marian technology specialist Jane Campbell is concerned about the implications of the possible loss of net neutrality. “Corporations are all about money I feel, so the ones that are in control of it [the internet] would find a way to make more money, to the detriment of schools and people at home. It would affect everyone who couldn’t afford to pay for the highest package, the highest speed,” Campbell said.
However, in late 2017, it was brought to the public’s attention that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was to vote on whether or not to maintain net neutrality in its current form. They hoped to roll back the regulations of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Title II is effectively what makes the open internet possible, as it provides regulations for internet service providers (ISPs), such as placing ISPs in the same category as gas, electric and other basic-resource-providing companies. It therefore expressly prohibits actions such as throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization within the net—all actions that would benefit companies before customers.
But why does net neutrality even matter? Open internet regulations prevent ISPs from abusing their power for company or financial gain. Otherwise, they would have the opportunity to throttle the bandwidth of customers and slow down connection to certain websites as they please. They would also be able to block certain content from being able to be viewed on a customer’s device. For example, if a company executive did not like a certain political leader, they could theoretically block articles that supported said leader. As for paid prioritization, a company would also be able to hasten the connection to certain sites (like Facebook, Netflix, etc.) in exchange for the company’s payment, with the likely possibility of the creation of “fast lanes” for customers who were willing to pay more for certain speeds.
On Dec. 17, 2017, the FCC voted along party lines to roll back the regulations of Title II. This was a monumentos decision, but not all hope for an open internet is lost. Only a committee of five members of the FCC voted on the issue, and the proposition to reverse Title II regulations has yet to pass through Congress. There is still plenty of time to fight. People must show representatives the necessity of net neutrality through phone calls, letters and more. The more the public opposes the removal of net neutrality and shows it, the less likely it is to be taken away.