What does the Internet mean to You?
Though we typically see the Internet (endless vortex of gifs and childish that is) as a media consumption platform, a pleasure and not a necessity, this is changing fast. The Internet as we know it is quickly growing to become the dominant communication platform of the modern age - evidence of this surrounds us. For example, several years ago the U.N unanimously declared Internet access to be a basic human right after Internet access was denied to citizens of Egypt in an attempt to quell an uprising. Additional events such as the rapid rise of educational courses and programs on the Internet, the number of Internet based companies, and the increasing use of the Internet as the world's primary communication source all add credence to this theory. Perhaps the greatest testament to the significance of the Internet is the fact that this very presentation was created, sourced, and delivered solely using the Internet.
Chances are you, a bright young high school student rely on the Internet more than anyone else does! As computers grow more and more ubiquitous more and more people are becoming connected to the Internet. This makes for a bright future; a world in which all people can be connected to the Internet and can thus have equal opportunities. This is one of the best and least recognized qualities of the Internet: in a weird sort of way, it equalizes. Here's an example: suppose you're a young aspiring student that lives in a remote part of the world, where your educational facilities are limited. You want to attend college, but because of your physical distance from the colleges you are unable to do so. With the advent of the Internet this is no longer a problem, as educational materials can be and are available online. Here's another scenario: You're in your 20s, straight out of college, and you want to start a new Internet company. Ordinarily, it is very hard for new small companies to compete with established larger companies, however on the Internet this is not a problem as customers are given the full freedom of choice. Ultimately scenarios such as these affect you, the consumer, directly. If not for these qualities of the Internet, many of the services we love and cherish, such as Netflix, would not exist. Unfortunately, this vision of the Internet is in danger.
Several years ago, Google, realizing the power and potential of the Internet, created a set of guidelines on maintaining the Internet's open qualities, called Net Neutrality. For several years all appeared well, and the Internet looked to be on track towards a brighter future for all. Enter the Telecos. The history of Net Neutrality is long, complex, and very political (for a cursory overview, check the video below), but the basic series of events is that the Telecos or ISPs (companies that provide Internet Access) have, for the last several years, been trying to contest Net Neutrality and the open system it suggests for a closed system in which the Internet is divided into fast and slow lanes, at the mercy of the ISP.
Worse still, this dystopian future began to look a lot like our future. The ISPs, namely Verizon, decided to wage war with the FCC (the government body that regulates communication companies) to overrule current regulations entirely and Comcast decided to ignore current regulations entirely by demanding money from content providers such as Netflix in exchange for usable speeds.
In scenarios such as these, the FCC is tasked with regulating these companies. However, this seemed very unlikely as several years ago, President Obama appointed Tom Wheeler, the former head of the cable industry's lobbying arm as the head of the FCC.
Why should I, care?
The immediate effect, if Net Neutrality dies, will be a la carte style internet which means that you will need to pay your ISP for every website you visit (if you want to be able to use the websites reasonably). This is more than just expensive or inconvenient: this will give the ISPs a total monopoly over Internet Access to the point where they have almost tyrannical control over all content. A monopoly like this would allow the ISPs to push their own services and also would, by extension, cause existing services to become monopolies, ultimately harming the end consumer as this completely removes the concept of competition. With events such as the Time Warner and Comcast merger looking very plausible, this actually could become our reality. From there on it's a slippery slope to a complete totalitarian regime in which the Internet is privatized and closed. The Internet is essentially the modern day American Dream - the new foundation of America. As such, we must do everything we can to protect it. Additionally, because of the US's position in the world when it comes to the Internet, other countries are looking to the US to enact their own legislation.
There is some good news though. Last year, after a widespread public outrage regarding the FCC's plan for the Internet, the FCC taking comment on the issue, and President Obama actually including the battle for Net Neutrality in his State of the Union Speech and sitting down with Tom Wheeler, a small battle was won. Early this month, the FCC announced a new set of regulation that they hope to impose on ISPs. This legislation forces the ISPs to abide by Title II regulation which has been shown to hold up very well in court.
It isn't over yet, though...
While this is very good news, we still have a long way to go to ensure the security of the Internet for the future. The FCC has only published a plan - this is not law yet. The timing of this presentation is especially opportune as, the FCC will be voting on the new regulation on February 26th. Here's what you can do to help them decide:
Here's what you can do:
The best way to show the FCC how you feel about their plan to enforce Net Neutrality is to use the Internet to tell them: Visit this website to tell your representative how you feel about this issue here: https://www.battleforthenet.com/ or by visiting this website: https://www.tumblr.com/everybodyontheinternet
Additionally, you can learn more about this issue by visiting the above link and by watching this video for more background information: