Sorry, no punchy headline today, folks. This is serious business.
There are few things I loathe more in this life than rash decisions made without foresight. Anyone who knows me, knows this to be the case, almost to a fault. I try very hard not to make decisions without thinking through every possible outcome – positive and negative – before I do anything.
I wish the FCC had done the same today, but alas, here we are.
As I sat in a room today with 9th graders and tried to explain to them the complexities of net neutrality and why they should care, and after about five minutes, I told them to Google it on their school-sponsored laptops. A few minutes later, a student raises his hand and says, “I genuinely don’t understand why anyone would want to get rid of this.”
As I watched the FCC meeting today, I found myself wondering the same thing.
So, what’s the big deal with net neutrality anyway, and why should you care about it?
John Oliver does not one, but two fantastic videos detailing Net Neutrality, but basically, here’s the deal.
Back in 2015, the Obama administration’s FCC put forth a measure that became known as Net Neutrality. This measure essentially, according to Rebecca Ruiz of The New York Times, put forth strict laws and regulations on Internet Service Providers that intended to keep the internet open. The goal of net neutrality is, after all, to ensure that consumers are given equal access to all legal content regardless of its source (or, its source’s business affiliations).
To me, this seems like a no-brainer. We live in a democracy that should want its people to have access to as much information as possible, so they can be free to make their own choices and decisions. We also live in a capitalist society where competition is king. Having access to the entire internet allows consumers to be inundated with choices and competition from large corporations and start-ups without either party having to worry about getting edged out of the marketplace due to slow internet speeds on ‘undesired’ sites.
Apparently, the FCC commissioners disagree, or most of them do anyway. In a decision today, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality 3-2. The three that voted for repeal were Republicans and the two against were Democrats. This detail shouldn’t matter because political parties shouldn’t define our system of government and the way we make decisions in a democratic system…oh, wait…
I know I don’t have any qualifications other than having a BS in Telecommunications to have any sort of authority on this matter, but if it seems so simple, then why did the FCC vote for repeal?
According to Callum Borchers of The Washington Post, there are a few arguments that were considered when deciding to vote for appeal. The first argument is that the FCC should not be charged with this kind of power, and that power should instead come from Congress. In my opinion, this is a lazy thought process. Though the FCC derives its power from the Federal Communications Act, which was light on its internet regulation to begin with with its conception in 1996, that doesn’t mean that their powers remain constant. Technology is forever changing and progressing, so shouldn’t the laws that govern it change and progress with it? To say that the FCC shouldn’t have the power is one thing, but to then use that as an argument for changing the face of internet usage in the United States is quite another.
The next argument Borchers outlines is that true net neutrality is just a fantasy. Okay, so we don’t technically have the infrastructure in place for start-ups to have the same content delivery speeds as established companies like Amazon or Facebook. In the theory and spirit of net neutrality we do, but in practice, it’s unlikely that a company fresh off the ground will have the same ability to troubleshoot as a more established company with more capital. This is true, but that doesn’t mean that we should get rid of the set of laws that are keeping this infrastructure gap from widening. In fact, the FCC should be looking for ways to help improve this gap within the guidelines of net neutrality and not getting rid of it.
The last argument that Borchers discusses is my favorite argument made by the opposition. This argument comes direct from Ajit Pai’s brain: Net neutrality doesn’t fix any problems – it searches for them. In a way, Pai is correct; there was no real problem with the internet in 2015, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have happened. Essentially, what net neutrality did was proactively stop telecommunications giants from cherry-picking the content for consumers. Even though there was no indication that this would have happened, it’s best to ensure that it didn’t by creating a law that would stop it from happening. Most laws and regulations are created after something happens to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, so I can see how Pai would be confused by this proactive regulation, but nevertheless, it was for the best of intentions.
This is by no means to say that net neutrality as it was written in 2015 was a perfect system. The idea is usually better than the implementation after all. However, instead of repealing something that isn’t perfect (cough, healthcare), why not work together with members from both parties to come to some sort of fair compromise? After all, our country was founded on compromises.
It seems to me that the repeal of net neutrality is the repeal of freedom. With this repeal, ISPs would have the right to block content from sites that don’t fit within their business or personal interests, and where does that lead? Because I don’t agree with certain curriculum choices made by my school district, does that mean I’m within my rights to withhold that information from my students? Absolutely not. Students should be given unbiased information so as to learn to think for themselves, and so should the American public.
A democracy is only as good as the people allow it to be, so as a people, let’s allow this democracy to be good by asking Congress to do its duty to the people and pass a resolution of disapproval. Even though it may not seem like it, we do have a voice in all of this. Scream, yell, shout until you can’t anymore. This isn’t just about Snapchat stories or Netflix shows or Amazon Prime memberships; this is about our rights, our democracy, our freedom.