Amid a strong push from large telecommunications companies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to determine the fate of Net Neutrality laws in the United States Dec. 14.
Enacted into law in 2015, Net Neutrality requires Internet service providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. For example, under current regulations, Verizon, as an Internet service provider cannot prevent you from accessing Google, even though they own the competing search engine Bing.
If the FCC votes to terminate Net Neutrality, Internet service providers would be legally permitted to throttle internet speeds and block access to certain websites. In some areas of the U.S.—especially rural areas—consumers may be forced to comply with the regulations of their Internet service provider or have no broadband Internet access at all.
These same Internet service providers could potentially double dip and charge fast access tolls to online businesses, making it difficult for small, independent companies who cannot afford the additional fees to compete.
Proponents of striking down Net Neutrality, including FCC chairman Ajit Pai, say current Net Neutrality laws are an example of overbearing government regulation and must be struck down. According to Pai—a former attorney for Verizon—the current regulations are the main obstacle standing in the way of telecommunication companies competing more with one another and making technological innovations.
“This burdensome regulation has failed consumers and businesses alike,” Pai said in an opinion article for the Wall Street Journal last month. “In the two years after the FCC’s decision [to enact Net Neutrality laws], broadband network investment dropped more than 5.6 percent—the first time a decline has happened outside of a recession.”
Is a slight decline in investment in a relatively new, niche area of American infrastructure really enough to warrant overhauling Net Neutrality as a whole? Pai’s argument becomes especially puzzling when you consider these major telecommunications corporations are thriving, not struggling. AT&T and Verizon each posted profits exceeding $13 billion in 2016.
To the average consumer, Net Neutrality appears to be one of the most popular, least partisan laws in the U.S. today. A June 2017 poll conducted by the Mozilla Foundation found 76 percent of Americans—including 81 percent of democrats and 73 percent of republicans—support Net Neutrality.
Regulation is not always bad. Oversight from the government has prevented companies from forming monopolies and charging excessive rates on utilities such as water and electricity. In 2017, the Internet should be classified in the same manner as water and electricity. Without Internet access, many would be left without job opportunities, information and the ability to communicate with friends and family. Not having access to the Internet puts a person at a significant disadvantage compared to someone who does.
Dec. 14, 2017 will be remembered as a grim day in American history if Ajit Pai and the telecommunication companies get their wish.
Five years from now, millennials may reminisce fondly over the days when they could binge watch Netflix without fear of speed throttling and overage fines. Verizon customers may become nostalgic when they recall how they were once able to choose Google over Bing as their search engine of choice without paying a fee.
Eliminating Net Neutrality would not only inconvenience our binge watching and Googling habits. The low-income members American society, unable to afford costly fees from Internet service providers, would once again become marginalized and isolated. The open web as we know it—which has sparked activist movements and brought politicians and celebrities to justice—could disappear forever.
Unfortunately, it is likely your local senator or congressman has been swayed by the efforts of telecom lobbyists and is beyond reproach. Sen. James Lankford, R-OK, accepted $21,000 in campaign donations from the telecom industry and currently supports the FCC and telecommunications’ push to end Net Neutrality.
While the outlook on Net Neutrality may appear grim at the moment, it is not too late to take a stand on the issue. Call or email your local senator or congressperson and let them know how you feel. Publish a social media post. Create a petition. While the total influence of government and these major corporations is great, the collective power of the citizens in a democratic society is far greater.