Net Neutrality and the Push for the Free Web

By Mark Lazar

Long Island City, HPCMS - Net Neutrality. What is it and why does it matter? It’s a term that’s being thrown around frequently and it’s a big deal, so I want to explain why this controversial debate is being held and what it’s about.

Basically, Net Neutrality is the principle that ISPs, or internet service providers, treat all content equally, and not give preference to some digital content providers. That means the consumer (like us) can load any website, app, video, .gif, etc., equally, regardless of where the content is hosted. For example, an ISP may not charge more for sites that stream movies or promote a specific agenda. This is also referred to as the open internet.

So, what’s the problem? The FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, voted in February 2015 to classify consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II Order of the 1934 Communications Act. The FCC aimed to impose “light-touch” regulations on ISPs by excluding some 700 regulations under Title II, such as the ability to set prices or impose new taxes. The FCC adopted no-blocking, no-throttling a no-paid-prioritization rules, according to the notice of proposed rulemaking released by the FCC. The measure controls how companies provide services to consumers. Under this order, the internet is deemed a common carrier or public utility, so ISPs are regulated, but if this program or push is stopped and shut down, the way the internet is structured and created or programmed can be destroyed forever, and here’s how.

The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is an agency or company of sorts created by the United States government to regulate communications between the states, whether it be through by radio, television, wire, etc. The chairmen of the FCC, Ajit Pai, wants to reverse the rules of Net Neutrality for good, even if protests from multiple states. people have risen to fight and potentially sue the FCC if the decision is passed. Before the FCC vote on December 14, the New York Times reported on this: “All of this activity has made Mr. Pai, 44, a former lawyer for Verizon and a longtime government bureaucrat, the target of many angry protests. In recent days, government officials — including 18 state attorneys generals and dozens of Democratic members of Congress — have asked the F.C.C. to delay the vote. On Wednesday, the attorneys general said that many of the 23 million public comments that had been filed to the agency about net neutrality appeared to be fraudulent. Mr. Pai has ignored the delay requests.” This also is troubling considering that now the FCC has voted to go with Ajit’s plans, voting 3-2 on December 14th. This means that 78.2% of American’s, or around 252,664,200 or more people’s lifestyle is at stake.

But why should us middle schoolers care? What I've told you so far is just a pile of facts and laws and things will fix up eventually right? Wrong. If Ajit Pai gets his way, how our internet works and functions will be changed. We will have to pay large amounts of money to access our favorite sites, as shown by this report from the New York Times:“Many consumer advocates have argued that if the rules get scrapped, broadband providers will begin selling the internet in bundles, not unlike how cable television is sold today. Want to access your favorite social media sites? Under a bundling system, getting on those sites could require paying for a premium social media package. In some countries, internet bundling is already happening. In October, Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, posted a screenshot on Twitter from a Portuguese mobile carrier that showed subscription plans with names like Social, Messaging and Video. He wrote that providers were ‘starting to split the net.’” For an idea of what this looks like, check out what happened in this image on the topic. This could happen to us, and we need to care about the end result. 

In the end, there is some hope for Net Neutrality, and because of this, supporters are still continuing to push the fact that this is an important issue. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has said that he will lead a multi-state lawsuit to prevent the repeal from happening. Why? Well, Schneiderman conducted his own research, and found that millions of public comments made during the FCC's open discussion period came from stolen identities, which Schneiderman argues has corrupted the repeal process, and while this hasn't gotten too much media attention, it is a important thing or idea to research. Other states, including Pennsylvania, will join the effort, and they'll likely file lawsuits after the rules become official, which could happen later in January. Groups for Net Neutrality, like the Internet Association, which includes companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon, are siding against the repeal, even though they have yet to formally announce any action if the vote gets passed. Infact, Burger King has indirectly shown their support for Net Neutrality in a video they made on their YouTube channel known as “Whopper Neutrality”, which currently has 4.2 Million views.

But, despite this, it might be congress who ultimately decides whether Net Neutrality stays, as the FCC's power comes from congressional laws, meaning that Congress could use the “Congressional Review Act” against the FCC. This basically means that Congress is allowed to undo any action that the FCC passes. The ultimate win for supporters of the push would be an action based on the Telecommunications Act, which states that the internet is classified under Title II. This, however, is unlikely to be the case, as Democrats are in the minority right now. While this doesn't mean that Republicans won’t vote for Net Neutrality, it also doesn’t mean Congress and others won't act at all. So far, 26 Senators have voiced their concerns the FCC’s repeal, and it's very likely that more of the senators will join in. Of course, the supporters for the cause are a majority democrats, and at least a handful of republicans will be needed to support blocking the FCC’s repeal, keeping Net Neutrality.

Some HPCMS students were informed of the topic of Net Neutrality and were asked to give their opinions. 7th Grader, Xavier Caba said, “I think that’s a bad idea. The internet should be equal and it’s unfair that we have to pay more or be forced into a worse state of internet, so I support Net Neutrality. I don’t know why Ajit Pai would want to do this. I see his points, but the internet is big and we are dependent on it, so this is a terrible time to do this.”

Another 7th Grader, Madeline Reilly, had a similar stance, saying “People get paid for doing things on the internet and we have become dependent on the internet, so this would cause corruption of sorts. People are just being greedy, it’s a cash-grab that shouldn’t be happening.”

While the FCC has already voted against the open internet, and Chuck Schumer and other congressmen of New York have already decided to sue the FCC, if these plans go through, there are still things you can do to help. Alert your community and your friends, and let the people around you know that we can save the free web. We as Americans have the power to shape the world and the future of the internet, so we need to take action and make sure that the bill does not pass to Supreme Court. Go out and make your voice heard, because if the free web is destroyed, you might not have the chance again.