Photo: Andrés Canchón on Unsplash
What is net neutrality and why does it matter?
Net neutrality is the fundamental concept that provides users equal and open access to the internet. Internet service providers were given a set of rules embodying the idea of net neutrality during the Obama administration in 2015, and this past December, the Federal Communications Commission, under chairman Ajit Pai, voted to repeal those very regulations. Under those 2015 statutes, internet providers such as Xfinity and Verizon were not allowed to limit or inhibit their customers’ internet speeds based on how much they were paying; that is, they couldn’t charge more for certain websites or slow down the internet for customers who paid less. However, FCC chairman Ajit Pai argues that net neutrality impedes innovation, and also points out that the rules were only enacted in 2015, and internet service providers were not violating net neutrality before it was legally enacted.
How does the repeal process work?
The FCC voted 5-4 to repeal net neutrality back in 2017, but the United States Senate passed a measure to overrule the repeal and preserve net neutrality rules. However, the House of Representatives has not yet voted on the matter, and it is not predicted to pass in the House— not to mention that President Trump is unlikely to approve it. The repeal took effect on June 11, 2018. The FCC voted to repeal a rule that prevents internet providers from prioritizing certain content, and a rule that prevented internet providers from slowing down or blocking online content.
Does this mean net neutrality is gone forever?
No, it doesn’t. Net neutrality is a federal regulation, but many states and even cities have already passed or proposed legislation that would maintain net neutrality in their area. Montana, New York, and Washington have all used various legal means (executive orders or laws) to ensure net neutrality is maintained in their states. There is still a chance that the federal government could overturn the FCC’s decision. While the repeal has officially taken effect, net neutrality still has a chance of being reinstated.
What does this mean for me?
This could mean nothing for you, or you might see changes in how your internet service works. For those who live in cities or states with their own net neutrality regulations, you won’t personally notice much change in how you access and pay for the internet. But for those living in areas without other protections, this federal change may impact you. Opponents of the repeal fear that internet companies might start selling internet packages based on websites or speeds; so, for example, if you want to use the internet for social media, you’ll pay for a package of social media—similar to TV subscriptions, where you can buy sports channel packages or movie channel packages. Furthermore, many fear that internet providers will show preference to big companies or rich customers, leaving small businesses in the dust when it comes to online presence and capabilities. Of course, we have no guarantee that any of this will happen; internet companies may just continue to operate as they had been before the repeal.
Is there anything I can do about this?
The House of Representatives has yet to vote on this issue, so regardless of where you stand, there’s still time to lobby your local representative either in favor of the repeal or against it. There are also numerous petitions on the internet on either side of the controversy that you can sign. Keep in mind that this article isn’t a comprehensive guide to the entire issue surrounding net neutrality, so if you are concerned or interested, feel free to conduct your own research to learn more about it.
Abigail is a rising sophomore at Emerson College studying for a BFA in creative writing. She spends most of her free time during the year working for her school newspaper, but also enjoys going to poetry readings, spending time with friends, and cheering for her hometown Philadelphia sports teams.