Opinion

Losing Net Neutrality May Also Mean Losing User Freedom

Photo courtesy of Yuri SamoilovReversing net neutrality measures may have major consequences for both the censorship of online content and user behaviors.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote Dec. 14 on a plan to undo the 2015 regulations put on internet providers under the Obama administration and enlist new regulations dismantling net neutrality. The new proposed regulations are being circulated by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Pai claims that under his proposal, “the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.” This may be a disaster for user freedom if it comes into fruition and we need to speak up and stop the FCC from repealing net neutrality.

Net neutrality prevents big internet providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, from dictating the kinds of content one is able to access online. The main aspect of net neutrality being attacked is that of title II, which forbids Internet Service Providers (ISP) from blocking or slowing down internet data, and from enacting paid prioritization — which allows ISPs to discriminate between websites’ data.

Under this regulation, internet providers are required to treat all traffic sources equally. It provides an even playing field among content providers, large or small, to the web.  

The main argument presented for dismantling net neutrality is internet freedom. Pai and the FCC, along with some internet providers such as Verizon, claim they don’t want the government interfering with our internet. They believe it should be the people who dictate how the internet works, which allows for more freedom amongst consumers and internet providers. However, when we look at how the internet was before net neutrality was in place, we see that it runs contrary to this notion of more freedom; we see internet providers not only censoring speech, but also censoring certain behaviors.

A prime example of internet providers censoring speech is AT&T and Pearl Jam. In 2007, during part of Pearl Jam’s Lollapalooza webcast sponsored by AT&T, the company muted and censored parts of the event where Pearl Jam criticized former president George W. Bush. Imagine if this were to happen today in our even more politically reactive climate.

An example of content blocking is in the case of Verizon and Google Wallet. In 2011, Verizon blocked its customers from installing Google Wallet, a payment service created by Google, on their smartphones. A year prior to this, Verizon teamed up with Discover and Barclay to form another mobile payment system called Isis (now called Softcard).

Before net neutrality the internet wasn’t a place of freedom. Internet providers blocked people from sending emails and blocked certain sites. This isn’t the vision of freedom that Pai and some members of the FCC are selling to the American people. If we allow the FCC to go through with dismantling net neutrality, the freedom of the internet will be taken away for the benefit of internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon.

However, we still have time to fight against this and to protect the freedom we have on the internet. There are several ways we can show our support for net neutrality and convince congress this can’t be changed. For starters, we can call the FCC at 1-888-225-5322 and tell them we support keeping net neutrality.

You can also contact your members of Congress, which you can find at contactingcongress.org. The FCC makes these decisions, but Congress can pressure the FCC to push for keeping net neutrality. We must talk to our representatives and try to make a change before it’s too late. If we join together and let them hear our voice, we will prevent the loss of freedom we have through the internet.

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