Three months ago, under the Trump administration, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, voted 3-2 under the leadership of Ajit Pai to repeal the net neutrality guidelines that were promoted under Obama. However, the fight for net neutrality did not end there. Recently, state governments, companies, and congressmen have all strived to keep an open and equal internet. Casey Clark, an educator at Urbandale High School, gives his thoughts on net neutrality and the push for it.
Net neutrality is a complicated and controversial topic, but one that must be understood. The main part of net neutrality is the fact that it prevents internet service providers, or ISPs, from interfering with the speed of their customer’s internet or preventing them from accessing any legal websites. Many people, including Clark, view net neutrality guidelines as vital to protect the internet. “I feel that net neutrality is [valuable] because of the importance of our internet in our daily lives in the US. [The] Internet is no longer a commodity, it is a utility. I feel that it is equally as important as running water for many people.”
Many argue that net neutrality is unnecessary because of the idea that ISPs will not make their customers unhappy or else they would just move to another provider. However, when examined closer, this is shown to be impossible. A study done by Ars Technica in 2017 says 50 million U.S homes only had access to, at most, one 25+ Mbps internet provider. This argument also falls apart when research is done into the net neutrality violations that happened before the Obama administration. For instance, the Daily Dot reports that in 2012, AT&T blocked access to Apple’s Facetime app- unless customers paid extra. Also, for a two-year span between 2011-2013, AT&T, this time with Verizon and Sprint, banned access to Google Wallet in order to push their own product. Clark warns of the potential impact of having so few options. “Without net neutrality, the power is placed into the hands of a select few to alter how we, as Americans, access the internet. There is already a lack of competition when looking at ISPs and now those that exist have even more power.“
In politics, the “revolving door” is a controversial topic, but one that has impacted American government for decades. Unsurprisingly, it played a part in the FCC vote over net neutrality. “The one thing that I want everyone to realize,” Says Clark, “Is that the head of the FCC was appointed by the current administration and set out immediately to repeal Net Neutrality. Making claims that it was bad for the industry without actually backing up his claims with facts. Ajit Pai was a high ranking lawyer for Verizon, and ISP for many Americans before he was appointed to the office. To me, this screams conflict of interest. I cannot speak to the background of previous heads of the FCC but this one throws up red flags to me.”
California, Montana, and New York have all rebelled against the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality by pushing their own laws to protect the internet. Along with those states, 50 senators have combined to start a process to overturn the FCC decision, although that is unlikely the pass through both the house and President Trump’s office, as the influence of Republicans is higher in those two areas. Clark agrees that party lines play a huge part in controlling net neutrality. “The original regulations were set up by Democrats so it does seem logical that they are trying to overturn the decision. The actual FCC voting went along party lines with a 3-2 vote. I feel as tho there is a lot of other factors that can play into the split along party lines. It is also clear that the Republican party is in favor of the repeal so the only other party to reverse the decision would be the Democrats.”
Americans will likely not immediately see the impact of rolling back net neutrality guidelines, but in the long term, things are going to change. “Right now ISPs are not making direct moves, to my knowledge, to change anything. However, if the power is there and the ability to squeeze more money out of people human greed will eventually take over.” Internet providers have already abused their customers in the past, and without net neutrality, they will return to doing so.
Update: Since the article was originally written, AT&T have already started violating the concept of net neutrality by offering “sponsored” data plans, in which companies can pay AT&T to allow customers to access their specific websites without affecting the consumer’s data.