Net Neutrality: The internet under attack

Grant Wetmore and Reina Underwood, Opinion Editor and Staff Writer

The internet is a marvelous place. With it, access to all human knowledge is at our fingertips. We can express our thoughts and ideas, good or bad, to thousands, if not millions, across the globe. However, the internet and the freedom it represents is under attack.

The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on the repeal on net neutrality on Dec. 14. You may not be aware of how serious this vote could be or the consequences if it passes.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) are to treat all data on the internet equally. In other words, they can not charge you more or less for using specific sites or content. Since 2015, the internet has been considered a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Because of this, net neutrality has been considered safe. The upcoming vote plans to remove this protected status.

The FCC wants to allow a few big corporations like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast to own and control the internet. They would sell us the internet for a monthly fee, then control what they allow us to consume. This could create a monopoly, defeating all other sources of competition. It would force all people to have to choose between these top corporations as a provider.

There are several cons that come with the removal of net neutrality. The foremost being that ISPs can charge you extra to view certain sites. They can even block sites entirely if they choose to. It would be like a power company charging higher rates to homes and hospitals so they can make more money or not providing energy to any business that happens to cross them.

Say you had a favorite site called PH. If net neutrality is repealed, then your ISP could charge you an additional fee to access PH. What happens if your ISP suddenly takes a moral stance against PH? Well, remember those parental locks when you were a kid? Imagine that on every computer and mobile device that gets its internet from your ISP.

Another thing ISPs can do if net neutrality is repealed is throttling. “Throttling” is the term used when an ISP purposefully speeds up or slows down your internet. There are two ways in which ISPs can use throttling. The first way is they can slow down your internet and then offer a “premium” package for regular speed internet. Another way is to control what you see on the internet. Let’s say The Oak Leaf put a not-so-flattering story about Comcast on its website. Don’t be surprised if that page doesn’t load until after a couple of minutes.

This isn’t outright blocking, but, people are impatient and might exit out before they have a chance to see the story. In the United States, we have the right to the freedom of speech. The internet is a place where a large number of people express that right. If ISP’s gain total control and end net neutrality, they could monitor blogs and block content they don’t want others exposed to.

Speaking of Comcast, some ISPs have promised they would not throttle if net neutrality is repealed. However, I would not trust anything these big businesses have to say. In the past, Comcast has been caught interfering with Bittorrent’s web traffic.

The only positive to repealing net neutrality is that ISPs can make an extra buck or two at the expense of the public. This vote came about because of that all-mighty dollar and corporate greed. With net neutrality, we the public had nothing to lose. If net neutrality is repealed, we’ll be the ones suffering the losses while the ISPs reap the benefits.

One could counter-argue that the repeal of net neutrality would free the market. If you don’t like the way your ISP is treating your internet, you could always change your ISP. That may sound logical in theory. You know what else sounds good in theory? Communism, Anarchism and Libertarianism. The truth is, making the internet a free market may not necessarily be the best thing. There are some areas where AT&T or Comcast are people’s only reliable source of internet. What happens if you’re dissatisfied with PG&E? Who are you going to turn to for electricity?  Opening the internet to the free market allows for shady and unethical business tactics. Remember when Exxon shut down all those refineries for “maintenance” and then jacked up the price of gas? Imagine if an ISP did something similar.

The average American in 2016 spent around $1200 annually on internet and cable alone. Our nation is consumed by technology. Our lives revolve around access to the internet in one form or another.

We should have a choice if we are being censored. The choice should be up to the people and not large corporations that could be only spreading their bias and the bias of their financial supporters.

The question remains: what can you do to stop this repeal? Directly, not much. The fate of net neutrality lies in the hands of five FCC commissioners. This is not an issue we can vote on, but you can still do something. You can sign a petition online. You can call your congress member. You can attend or participate in rallies and protests against the repeal. Make some noise. If the legislature we elected truly is for the people, they will listen to us when we say we do not want this.

America was founded on a democracy, full of choices and variety. If we give the power to a few, we won’t be exposed to different views or world problems they may try to intentionally block. Net neutrality is a reality today, but if the FCC allows it to be repealed, we will wake up with a harsh reality of our open democracy Internet coming to an end.

This is not the most glamorous of causes. But this still concerns a very important facet of our lives: a free internet. It may not come to pass. Maybe the ISPs will stick to their word and things will go on like they always have. But are you willing to risk the Internet that we have come to love and put it in the hands of for-profit corporations? I, for one, am not willing to take that chance.