The words “net neutrality” have been plastered on Facebook news feeds, Tumblr dashboards, and Twitter timelines everywhere the last few days, following the Federal Communication Commission’s decision last Thursday to honor the principle.
It’s no secret that the Internet is the pulse that powers our digitally-driven society; however, it’s odd how little people actually know about it, including the fact that the net neutrality debate has been going on for a while.
Under net neutrality, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon, are required to treat all types of Internet traffic the same way. This basically means that people can stream live feed of their city council meeting at the same speed as they can the next movie on their Netflix queue.
However, since 2006, lobbyists from ISPs have been working to get rid of net neutrality altogether.
With net neutrality gone, ISPs can give certain websites a “fast lane” for their users to access them, for a cost of course, a cost shouldered by the consumer. For example, last year, Netflix’s streaming speeds on Comcast rose dramatically after agreeing to pay the ISP a premium.
There are a few problems with this model.
First, paying for a fast lane isn’t hard to do for established websites like Facebook, Tumblr, Netflix etc., but what about the little guy? Websites that are just starting out won’t be able to pay for the fast lane they need to keep up with the established sites, and as a result, won’t have equal access to the users.
Secondly, eliminating net neutrality could mean reducing our First Amendment right to free speech. In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court case Reno vs. ACLU ruled that the Internet was “to be a free speech zone, deserving at least as much First Amendment protection as that afforded to books, newspapers and magazines.”
The Internet is a platform of expression where people can instantaneously share their thoughts and opinions with others all around the world.
Without net neutrality, ISPs would leave content-based websites no choice but to charge its users to access them. Doing this would put up a financial barrier and essentially put a price on status updates, tweets, vlogs, etc., making sharing opinions online more tedious and difficult.
In restricting the exchange of opinions online, we could hinder the spread of ideas and the production of new innovation. Let’s not forget that Amazon.com was born in a garage.
So why should we care?
According to the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C., 87 percent of adults in America use the Internet. The age group with the highest percentage of Internet users is the 18-29 age group a.k.a. the typical college student. The recent decision in favor of net neutrality ensures Internet for all, but more specifically Internet for us.
As members of the demographic that uses the Internet the most, we should see this decision as a victory and, as cliche as it sounds, reassurance that if enough people speak out against something, they will be heard.
Tumblr, Netflix, Reddit, CollegeHumor and other websites joined forces to alert their users that the Internet they knew, loved, and spent most of their time on was in jeopardy. They urged them to contact the FCC asking to maintain net neutrality and based on the hashtags and headlines from the past couple of weeks, it worked.
However, this victory doesn’t necessarily mark the end of conflicts with ISPs. We have our open Internet, but are we ready to defend it?
It’s a thought we should keep in the back of our minds, but in the meantime, let’s celebrate.
Tweet with as many hashtags as 140 characters allow.
Post yet another status about the color-changing dress.
Binge-watch Friends, Orange is the New Black, and House of Cards all in one sitting.
Why? Because you can.
Thanks to net neutrality.