By: Ricardo Santiago Rodriguez
Freedom of the web is in jeopardy due to a plan to “gut” net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted three to two against Net neutrality. FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Trump earlier this year, stands firm with the decision to reverse net neutrality. The BBC reported that Pai referred to the change as “restoring internet freedom, arguing the changes will foster innovation and encourage ISP’s to invest in faster connections for people living in rural areas.” So what does this all mean to UB students?
Net neutrality is the principle to preserve our right to communicate freely online. Net neutrality also gives consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis. Without it, internet service providers (ISP’s) will be allowed to control the flow of data within the internet, regulating the speed, quality, and content through applications or browsers. This includes raising prices dependent on multiple factors, blocking content that it does not support or rival its subsidiaries, and adding extra fees onto the user.
February 2015, former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler passed regulations aimed to ensure that all internet content Americans access, regardless of form of media, would be treated equally by ISP’s. Now two years later, the FCC has overturned those regulations. UB students will need to understand this situation because it affects more than just the streaming of Netflix. The internet itself has now been placed upon the bidding table for ISP’s. Many organizations use the open internet to organize and rally. Savetheinternet.com reports that “People of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the United States rely on the open internet to organize, access economic and educational opportunities, and fight back against systemic discrimination.” The internet is being used as a conduit to our first amendment, given to the people by the Constitution. Regulating, dictating, or oppressing the internet is unequivocally an attack on our freedoms.
Feeling the pressure, Chairman Pai created a public service announcement that has hit the internet in hopes of informing what the adjustments of net neutrality will mean to the American people while endorsing his repeal. The video was followed with many up in arms on the social media site Twitter. Certain backlash came from Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, who commented on the video depicting Pai breaking down net neutrality while waving a lightsaber to the pop culture relic fad,
“Harlem Shake,” tweeting that Pai was “unworthy” of wielding a lightsaber, quoting “A Jedi acts selflessly for the common man-NOT lie 2 enrich giant corporations.” Leaving a single hashtag below, #AJediYouAreNOT.
The repeal of net neutrality will cause massive ripples in the lives of future UB students. Imagine receiving notifications that there is an extra fee on your internet bill, charged multiple times because of frequent visits to a certain website. The ISP you are paying for is not affiliated with that website, thus it is legal to charge extra for accessing the outside servers. That website is Sakai, the tool needed to complete assignments access web material, and cooperate in discussion threads. If a student wishes to change their ISP due to this matter, the complications can range from additional cancelation charges to lowering credit scores.
Net neutrality kept big ISP’s from squeezing out more money from consumers. Without its safeguard, consumers will be lambs left to the wolves. However, ISP’s will likely avoid any drastic changes for now to avoid legal challenges. In a recent article from The New York Times, regulatory lawyer John Beahn with Skadden Arps said, “They [broadband companies] recognize the ultimate fate of the regulations is still far from certain at this point.” The FCC has handed oversight duties to the broadband carriers. Chairman Pai said, “the primary measure against wrongdoing would have to be transparency.” That transparency will have to come from the ISPs to show confidence towards consumers.
For now, the route to clarity for the future of the internet is cloudy with a chance of legal battles dependent on unavoidable future challenges as the internet is passed through the hands of people who see it merely as a profit. Here at UB, we recognize the internet as a utility, something needed by everyone, to gain access to knowledge that works.