The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it intends to vote on December 14 to repeal regulations that prevent corporations from blocking or otherwise treating different kinds of Internet traffic unequally. The FCC’s effort to dismantle the principle of “Net Neutrality” is a misguided attempt to undo important regulations meant to “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet”.
We don’t use the Internet only to search for travel deals, check email, or watch cat videos; the Internet is a tool for communication, organization and creation. It’s easy to forget these specific uses when they blend into our daily lives, and yet increasingly, our daily lives are supported by the free and open exchange of information the Internet makes possible.
Why is Net Neutrality so important? Net Neutrality represents our freedoms, and not just those associated with searching travel sites, using email, or watching cat videos. Net Neutrality represents many freedoms, some even granted by the United States Constitution. These freedoms—of speech; of the press; of assembly; of equal protection under the law—are vital to our democracy, and the principle of Net Neutrality serves to protect them on the Internet.
If the FCC votes to abandon Net Neutrality, it will remove important prohibitions on blocking certain websites or content; throttling upload and / or download speeds; and, offering preferential treatment to certain websites or content.
These prohibitions currently protect us from the following:
Censorship. By allowing certain content to be blocked, our ability as citizens to speak out will be impaired. Imagine the chilling effects on free speech, or on a free press, if an Internet provider could block a site espousing a contrary belief—what might happen?
Pay-to-play. By allowing throttling of Internet speeds, our ability to seek out information will be compromised as it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to access certain kinds of content without paying. This would also allow a preferred or paying site to get their message heard at the expense of another’s. Imagine being unable to get news from a certain media outlet without paying—what would happen to our freedoms of speech and of the press in that scenario?
Preferential treatment. By allowing money to substitute for equal access, our ability to seek out information free of bias will be hampered and a culture of haves and have-nots will be created. Imagine an Internet in which only the rich have access to information, or one’s ability to communicate freely with others is hampered. How might that undermine our right to equal protection under the law? How might that affect our ability to organize or freely assemble?
Proponents of this proposal say that less regulation means increased growth; they say that removing these prohibitions will drive much-needed investment. Yet the Internet has blossomed since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed. And that is specifically because the Internet has remained free and equal to all.
If there’s anything we’ve learned recently it is how fragile our freedoms actually are and how vigilant we must be to attacks on them. The principle of Net Neutrality guarantees a free and open Internet, a place where our individual freedoms are protected. Destroying Net Neutrality would destroy those freedoms and turn control over to corporations in the interest of making them more money. That is something we cannot afford.
The FCC must vote no on this proposal.