By Sophia Smith
Don’t let cranky Baby Boomers fool you: the Internet is the greatest tool of the 21st century. It gives everyone, regardless of wealth or social standing, equal access to information, offering platforms for people to communicate, create, work or incite social change.
The Internet was designed to be a free space. “Net neutrality” is the key aspect that ensures the Internet stays this way. This federal regulation prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Verizon or Comcast from favoring certain sites and companies. Without net neutrality, ISPs could pick and choose which sites get fast or slow coverage, forcing consumers to pay extra for consistent and reliable service. It’s a no-brainer -of course ISPs shouldn’t have this power.
But in November, while we were doing our best to avoid political conflict over turkey dinners and trying to forget about upcoming finals, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency meant to protect American consumers, quietly created a proposal to kill net neutrality. The proposed “Restoring Internet Freedom” order would allow providers to create fast lanes and slow lanes for websites and apps, favoring sites that pay the providers fees. At their December 14 meeting, while America is in the throes of holiday festivities, the FCC will be conducting a final vote on the proposal.
The FCC argues that the end of net neutrality would increase competition among ISPs, thereby not affecting consumers. But ISPs have an incredible amount of power. Due to recent mergers, a few major corporations control nearly all of the country’s internet, phone and cable services. Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are among the country’s largest ISPs and these few corporations have created a oligopoly of Internet service and intense competition among them seems unlikely. They exist only to make money and have little interest in the wellbeing of the American public.
It is fitting, then, that they connected with the Trump administration. Ajit Pai, Trump’s appointment for Chairman of the FCC, is a former associate lawyer for Verizon. It seems he was appointed for the sole purpose of killing net neutrality. The end of net neutrality would strip freedom and power from the masses, funneling it to the top: namely, corporations and their cohorts in Washington.
There is also fear that ISPs would abuse their power to pick and choose which sites will be in the fast lane. Potentially, publications whose opinions conflict with those of the corporations with power could be censored. Censoring the media is a slippery slope toward authoritarianism and fascism — the likes of which have been seen in North Korea, Russia and Nazi Germany. It’s easy to disregard this as a melodramatic comparison, but remember that the Nazis burned books to ensure the powerful controlled the flow of information to the German people. Is that much different than corporations and the politicians in their pockets choosing which online voices can be silenced?
Americans across the country are already fighting against the FCC’s imminent vote. Although the FCC has proposed to end net neutrality, Congress still has the power to create legislation to override the FCC’s decision. A more effective means of protest would be contacting individual representatives, instead of or in addition to contacting the FCC.
While social media posts and emails to representatives are better than nothing, politicians are consistently more responsive to phone calls. Online communications can easily be ignored, but when a politician’s phone lines are constantly ringing the operations of his or her entire office are interrupted.
For your benefit, here is a list of helpful resources to help your voice be heard: BattleForTheNet.com is a state-by-state guide of representatives’ stances on net neutrality, CallYourRep.com is a search engine for representatives by district and contact information for local offices, and 5Calls.org offers scripts for phone calls to politicians, though it is advised to make phone calls as personal as possible as opposed to a script.
And furthermore, on Thursday, December 7 at 3:00 pm, a protest will be held at the Salem Verizon store (4415 Commercial St. SE). If you choose to attend, remember to be courteous. None of this is at the fault of store employees!